There is a belief that the best way to travel in a country is to eat your way through it. With that in mind, if we cannot visit a faraway land, what if an opportunity to experience a country was placed on our porch?
Shut the front door!
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“Oh, the Alfredo’s Truffle Potato Chips from Amica Chips are very crisp, not greasy, and only a little salty. I like the strong truffle flavor. I’ve never had a truffle potato chip this good before!”
One day, during the doldrums between Thanksgiving and the winter solstice, Lisa mentioned that she signed up to try Universal Yums. She explained that it was a monthly subscription provider of curated snacks and treats with each month’s selections spotlighting a certain country. Shipments go out on the 15th every month with email confirmations and tracking information. Before then, I was ready for a nap; now, I was ready to pack my bags. Except, instead of a passport, all I needed was my keys so I wouldn’t get locked out from trying our first subscription box, representing Italy, from Universal Yums. It’s so simple that it only takes a few short steps to get started.
We wanted to share all the fun of this new experience, so we asked my mom to explore Italy with us by way of Universal Yums. None of us had ever visited Italy, so we felt that this would be a virtual approximation with our destinations pinned on Italian snacks and treats. Looking over the assortment, all of the curated offerings were brand new to us. Some of them seemed decidely foreign. You think?
Unboxing the package from Universal Yums seemed like a gift and a labor of love. Universal Yums was founded by a couple, Monique and Eli, in 2014, with the idea that anyone could travel the world by stepping out their front door, and enjoy choice snacks and treats representing a new country each month. Their dream became a reality. This virtual trip to Italy was about to become fully realized with our first tasting. The Yum Scoreboard suggested the order of things, and a 16-page booklet provided backgrounds about Italy and each food item. With everything in order, we were ready to experience Italy!
First on the itinerary was Amica Chips Alfredo’s Truffle Potato Chips. All of us had tasted truffle potato chips before today; but, these were Truffle Potato Chips (caps theirs and mine) from Italy. Photos done, tasting to do. My mom: “I notice that these potato chips are smaller than American potato chips. They’re not oily at all. The chips are very crisp, and nice and thin!” Lisa: “Oh, the Alfredo’s Truffle Potato Chips from Amica Chips are very crisp, not greasy, and only a little salty. I like the strong truffle flavor. I’ve never had a truffle potato chip this good before!” And me: “I taste the truffle flavor right away. These are not overly salty, and they’re nice and crisp. The truffle taste is just right!” The Truffle Potato Chips were an early favorite.
Next on the schedule was Selz Soda Fizzy Lemon Candy. It seemed that none of us had ever before experienced fizzy candy. This was going to be fun. My mom: “I pick up the fizz right away. I can taste the zest from the peel. I like the strong lemon flavor!” Lisa: “This candy has a nice lemon taste. It reminds me of Meyer lemon, not too sour or bitter. Oh, mine just broke open. This is really good!” And me: “The candy has a very glassy surface, not raspy, but very smooth and slick. The fizz seems to be bubbling out through a tiny crack in the shell. I’m going to break mine open fully. Oh, this is nice. It’s very refreshing and a lot of fun!” What did I tell you?
Up ahead was Tarall’oro Lemon and Pepper Tarallini. My mom and I never heard of tarallini. We were all going to try Tarallini from Italy. My mom: “This is almost like a cracker, pretzel or bread stick. It’s very light!” Lisa: “It kind of looks like a giant Cheerio. This is crunchy but not hard to eat. I’m tasting more pepper than lemon. The pepper is very warming!” And me: “This looks a little like a mini doughnut. I’m tasting more pepper than lemon. The texture reminds me of a bread stick!” A light snack, the Tarallini impressed us.
Down the line was Amica Chips Ketchips Ketchup Potato Chips. We have tried ketchup potato chips in the past. They seemed more like a gimmick than a first choice. These Ketchips made a case for first place. My mom: “These potato chips smell just like ketchup. They’re softer than the truffle chips. The ketchup taste is very nice!” Lisa: “The Ketchips taste a little sweet. They’re crisp but not super crisp. And they’re not greasy at all!” And me: “I smell ketchup. They taste maybe just a little too sweet. These might actually be a little thicker than the truffle chips. These are much better than other ketchup potato chips I’ve tasted!” Universal Yums, one bag, seriously?
Around the corner was Freddi Buondolce Orange Zest Carrot Cake. This was right up my alley. My mom: “I smell orange. I taste a little earthiness but it’s not strong. I’m kind of neutral about this one.” Lisa: “This cake tastes almost like almond. The cake itself is very soft. The carrot juice provides natural sweetness. The taste is light. This would be a nice tea cake!” And me, in the alley alone with my cake: “Oh, this smells nice. The texture is so soft. This cake has a bright orange flavor!” I wasn’t much for words what with all the “mmm’s.”
“Mmm…I smell the good chocolate. The hazelnuts are very soft. This is close to my favorite now!”
In the next neighborhood was Novi Nocciolato Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Bar. My mom was first to do like the natives. My mom: “Mmm…I smell the good chocolate. The hazelnuts are very soft. This is close to my favorite now!” Lisa: “Oh, this is like the texture of a truffle. This chocolate bar is so smooth and creamy. It’s not overly sweet. The hazelnuts are so good!” And me: “This almost melts on the fingertips. The hazelnuts are so tender. I can smell their roasted quality. The chocolate is excellent!” I’m upset that I can’t just buy this chocolate bar at the corner store. I’m also relieved.
Through the portico was Laurieri Amarettini Crisp Almond Cookies. Such an intriguing shape with a curved indentation underneath promised profound flavor. Promises kept? My mom: “The more I chew, the more I can appreciate the almond flavor of the cookies. The egg whites make the cookies so airy!” Lisa: “These cookies are super crisp. The flavor is very aromatic. With a nice cup of tea these cookies would be spectacular!” And me: “The cookies are very crisp but not hard at all. The amaretto flavor really kicks in after the first bite. I like the shape with the indentation underneath the cookie. I think more flavor depth can be tasted because of the shape!” Exactamundo! Wait, that’s the Fonz. Esattamente! There we go.
Here we go with Sorini Tiramisu Cream Milk Chocolate Balls. Tiramisu in a ball. My mom: “This has a nice texture. The chocolate taste is strong!” Lisa: “I taste a mocha coffee flavor just like tiramisu. It’s not too sweet. Oh, I like it!” And me: “This might be a little too sweet for me. I like the tiramisu flavor. If the sugar ratio is adjusted down just a bit, then it’ll be just right!” Even a Ferrari needs to be tuned to perfection.
On the piazza was La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta. This was the star of the assortment. The Bruschetta was ready for its close-up. My mom: “These are like little bread. I can’t wait to try this. I can taste the sourness of the tomatoes. There’s sweetness too. I really like this. The sunflower oil is light and neutral. I think I like this best!” Lisa: “They look just like little bruschetta. There’s a lot in the pouch. These look really good. I can smell oregano and tomato. They’re very crisp and very light but not dry. The oregano and tomato flavors are so fresh. Oh, I like this!” And me: “Wow, La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta is high quality. How do they get so many to stay so perfect? I could serve these as little appetizers. Listen to the crunch with every bite. The taste of oregano comes through followed by tomatoes. Sunflower oil rests on my lips. Now look underneath the bruschetta. You can see the golden toasted quality of the bread. I like this best too. This feels most like Italy!” Sometimes there’s truth in advertising.
By the fountain was Novi Nero Raspberry and Almond Dark Chocolate Bar. The high quality preceded itself. My mom: “I smell cocoa. This bar has a good match between the bitterness of chocolate and the delicate taste of raspberries. The chocolate is very crisp!” Lisa: “This smells like dark chocolate. The chocolate is very nice, not chalky or hard. The raspberries are very nice!” And me: “This chocolate is very thin and crisp, which is nice. Underneath I can see the almonds. The raspberries taste so fresh. The ratio of dark chocolate to raspberries is just right. The flavor and fragrance of raspberries comes through as a pleasant surprise!” The depth of flavors from a chocolate bar so thin was astounding.
Alongside the canals was Laurieri Frolletti al Cranberry Cookies. These seemed unassuming enough, but then. My mom: “I taste the sourness with every bite of cranberries. The cookies are a little milky!” Lisa: “There’s so much flavor. This is a good cookie that would pair nicely with tea or coffee!” And me: “These cookies are very light. The texture on top is very nice. I like the bursts of sourness from the cranberries!” Like a crisp short-sleeved button-down white shirt paired with black chinos, this is a combination that works for all time.
The final destination was Sorini Choco Boom Milk Chocolate With Strawberry Pop Rocks. This might have come off like a kris stiletto stuck in a cake. My mom: “I’m not getting much strawberry flavor. I think the pop rocks are a little too sweet for me.” Lisa: “This is like a strawberry creme. I think this is fun!” And me: “When I bite a strawberry pop rock, I get a burst of creamy strawberry. I think this might be a little too sweet for me.” The pop rocks made an impact but we were left after the boom wondering what just happened.
“Wow, La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta is high quality. How do they get so many to stay so perfect? I could serve these as little appetizers. Listen to the crunch with every bite. The taste of oregano comes through followed by tomatoes. Sunflower oil rests on my lips. Now look underneath the bruschetta. You can see the golden toasted quality of the bread. I like this best too. This feels most like Italy!”
After we came back down to Earth, we excitedly compared notes and championed our Favorite Yum, rationalized our Worst Yum, and settled on our Weirdest Yum. Our Favorite Yum was unanimous: La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta. My mom: “La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta. It’s very light and flavorful. This is Italy. This is my favorite!” Lisa: “I’m really hung up on La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta and Amica Chips Alfredo’s Truffle Potato Chip. I’ll go with La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta to make it unanimous!” And me: “La Mole Pan Tosto Tomato and Oregano Bruschetta. This gives me the feeling of being in Italy. It’s my favorite!” Our Worst Yum was unanimous by virtue of its three “Okay” ratings: Sorini Choco Boom Milk Chocolate With Strawberry Pop Rocks. Our Weirdest Yum was Sorini Choco Boom Milk Chocolate With Strawberry Pop Rocks for the same reasoning, and we felt that the pop rocks were equivalent to the visual of a knife stuck in a cake. We also voted for an Upcoming Box: New Zealand. I asked everyone for their final thoughts. My mom: “This was a lot of fun!” Lisa: “I felt like a little kid opening presents. I can’t wait for the next box!” And me: “This is such a great idea, especially for those who can’t travel to these places. They say the best way to experience a country is to eat your way through it. This was a great experience and I can’t wait to ‘travel’ again!”
Our 18-1/2-year-old orange tabby, Peanut, still hanging on, voiced his opinion loud and clear about his displeasure for having been excluded from our virtual trip through Italy. I visited Japan twice since Peanut came into my life, and each time he traveled with me there whenever I spied yet another orange cat hair on my clothing. Peanut stayed at a ryokan in Kyoto, he was feted at a restaurant in Tokyo, and he sped past Fujisan on the shinkansen. I have never been to Italy, but maybe today I was there vicariously by way of the working hands at Universal Yums that packed and shipped all these delicious snacks and treats, bringing Italy to us. Where will you go next month? All you need to do is walk through the front door!
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