Hickory Farms Warmest Wishes Gift Box, a Big Letdown

"The Hickory Farms Warmest Wishes Gift Box might be the biggest holiday letdown since the year Santa Claus told me he doesn't exist (we were both drinking)."

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My parents have been gone for a few Christmases now, and while I do thank them for the memories and the house, this holiday season reminded me to be bitter that I inherited neither their good looks nor the good graces of whichever great-aunt it was who always came through with the Hickory Farms gift package.

Truth be told, I'd forgotten all about my family's annual Christmas Eve sausage/cheese/cracker/mustard party until a recent trip to the mall reminded me that Hickory Farms exists, which reminded me to be pissed that no one sends me any of their goods for Christmas anymore. Thanks for nothing, long-forgotten and possibly deceased tertiary relation!

I didn't buy any Hickory Farms stuff when I saw it in the wild for the obvious reason that it would have entailed spending any extra 90 seconds in a mall in December, but I did make a mental note to come home and check my options online.

My first search, for "Distant Relative Who Would Like the Address at Which Billy's Grown Son Now Receives His Mail-Order Sausage," turned up nothing but porn, but the Hickory Farms website had a lot of options.

I went with the Warmest Wishes Gift Box, which contains 4 ounces each of Farmhouse Cheddar and Smoked Cheddar Blend, 7 ounces of Signature Beef Summer Sausage, 1.25 ounces of Sweet Hot Mustard, and 1.5 Ounces of Olive Oil and Rosemary Crackers.

That's not a lot of food for $25 plus shipping: a 4-ounce brick of cheese is about the size of a stick of butter; 1.5 ounces of crackers gets you about a handful and a half; and 1.25 ounces of mustard is enough for two well-yellowed sandwiches (if you have a utensil teeny enough to dig around inside the jar). I will concede, however, that 7 ounces of summer sausage forms a fair-sized log.

So this costs about twice as much as low-end brand-name replacements would at the grocery store. Is it twice as good? No. The Hickory Farms Warmest Wishes Gift Box might be the biggest holiday letdown since the year Santa Claus told me he doesn't exist (we were both drinking).

I started with the Farmhouse Cheddar, which looked like Velveeta and tasted like Kraft's pimiento cheese spread minus the pimiento. It could be satisfactorily melted onto any number of trashy-fantastic nacho-related things, so it's not at all useless, but it doesn't make for much of a straight eatin' cheese. The brick shape is misleading; an honest manufacturer would have shipped this sliced, shredded, or aerosoled.

The Smoked Cheddar Blend is much worse. It has a distinctly awful chemical flavor that suggests it was smoked over a clandestine ink-cartridge bonfire. The Olive Oil and Rosemary Crackers were better in that they didn't taste dangerous or illegal, but otherwise they were halfway to stale and totally forgettable.

Next up was the Beef Summer Sausage, which turned out to be pretty good. It's not any better than the next beef summer sausage out there, but it's also not any worse, which makes it too sausagey to fail in my book. It's a bit softer than others of its kind and nicely fatty without being overtly greasy. The sweet flavor was cut by a good dose of black pepper, and the post-sampling leftovers showed very well in black bean soup.

The Sweet Hot Mustard was the biggest disappointment, because even though it wasn't as bad as the cheese, it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered. It was suspiciously thick and way more sweet than hot, and it overpowered everything I slathered it on, even the strong sausage. Normally I'm all for mustard empowerment, but this stuff isn't good enough to be stealing the whole show.

The Hickory Farms Warmest Wishes Gift Box packaging admonishes "Traditions Matter" in large type at the top. It's never a good sign when a company, food or otherwise, needs to remind you that you should buy this thing because you always buy this thing. Quality matters more than tradition, so Great-Aunt Whoever can stay in hiding for all I care. (Unless she's the one who used to send me National Geographic every year. I kinda miss that.)

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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