Hello from the Chicago airport! What an amazing whirlwind 36-hours it’s been! I feel like I’m on information overload and have so much to share.
Yesterday I was up super early to catch my morning flight to Chi-town.
Yep, that’s the best winter outfit I could come up with. Luckily the greater Chicago area was experiencing a bit of a “heat wave” so I lucked out with sunny skies and highs in the low-40s during my trip. I didn’t even have to break out the Northface puffy coat a friend graciously lent me for the weekend.
My flight went smoothly, I landed early, and had minimal traffic getting to my final destination – an adorable little town just outside Chicago called Geneva.
The view from my hotel room. I think I was the only one who was really excited to see SNOW all around. It was my first time getting to play in it this winter.
Geneva is where Aldi USA is headquartered. Well, technically their headquartered in Batavia, but that’s just a hop, skip and a jump away. 😉
Aldi had invited a handful of bloggers (10 in total) to their test kitchen to learn about their stores and the best business practices that go into keeping their prices low, while not compromising on quality, health, or taste. You may remember I did a shopping trip at Aldi a couple of weeks ago and was impressed with the availability of organic products, fresh produce. and the savings.
We started in the Aldi Test Kitchen with a “Switch & Save” test comparing the Aldi product with a leading national brand equivalent.
The blind taste test scenario is very similar to what Aldi buyers conduct when adding products to their shelves. 95% of products sold in Aldi stores are Aldi exclusives and those exclusives come from suppliers that are hand selected by Aldi buyers. The buyers seek out suppliers who not only have the best deals, but also offer a great, quality product. Blind taste testing scenarios typically have 5-10 products that are sampled side-by-side and scored by a strategic ranking system based on taste, smell, texture, quality, etc. A lot of decisions about what goes on the shelves are made in this kitchen.
We compared samples of havarti cheese first.
At first taste, both cheeses tasted fine to me. It took a couple more nibbles to determine the B sample was just a tad saltier and A was a little creamier. We compared notes and all came to the same conclusion. While we wouldn’t turn either cheese away at a party, we definitely preferred A.
So which was which?
We were all stunned to see we had selected the Aldi option as our favorite choice. Though it would be interesting to see an ingredient comparison as well, it was still nice to see the 44% savings on the cheese we preferred.
Next up, greek yogurt.
Immediately I could tell that A and B were very different in texture. B was obviously thicker, while A was on the runnier side. However, the taste and sweetest were comparable.
Since B had the thicker texture I’m always lusting over in greek yogurts, I went with B as my favorite. The majority of the group agreed and we selected B as our final choice.
Another surprise, B was the Aldi brand, while A was a leading national brand (Chobani). Again, we were impressed.
We sampled tortilla chips next, which were a little more obvious that Tostitos were the A option and B was Aldi (I know my chips).
This was the only Switch & Save that I went with the National Brand only because I thought the Tostito chips were a little lighter and flakier The Aldi chip’s texture was a bit off. However, some folks in the group still preferred the heartier Aldi brand tortilla chip.
For the guacamole choices, I didn’t have an opinion either way. Both were creamy, delicious, and a perfect pairing with a tortilla chip.
That’s a situation where I would have purchased the Aldi guacamole on price alone.
After the Switch & Save Challenge we sampled a few simple snack recipes developed in the Aldi kitchen.
Loved the use of cucumbers instead of crackers in the Crunchy Bites. I plan to make something similar the next time I need to make appetizers for a party.
I’m also making the Spinach Romesco Dip.It’s perfect on a slice of bread and would be great with some chicken.
The crowd favorite was the Blueberry- Lemon Smoothie.
It tasted just like a loaf of blueberry lemon bread I sampled not too long ago. I would never have thought to add lemon to a smoothie, but it was very refreshing and complemented the blueberry wonderfully.
Speaking of smoothies, we had a fun smoothie challenge among the bloggers. We were presented with a spread of fresh/frozen fruit, vegetables, herbs, nut butters, and dairy and challenged with making a smoothie that was not only delicious, but nutritious as well.
I’m always nervous creating something on the spot for strangers because I know what I like might not necessarily work for someone else. I also tend to go a little overboard on the creative side, always yearning to think out of the box and create something unique that no one else would think of. However, I’m also always up for a challenge.
I was inspired by the fresh herbs and decided to do a berry and herb combo that featured fresh basil and mint.
Here’s what I ended up with (no measurements, I eyeballed everything):
- Frozen Strawberries
- Frozen Blueberries
- Juice ½ Lemon
- Fresh Basil
- Fresh Mint
- Vanilla Greek Yogurt
- Vanilla Almond Milk
Like I said, I was seriously nervous this wasn’t going to work, but ended up being fabulous. The lemon added just enough tartness that balanced the sweetness of the berries with the strength of the fresh herbs. I loved it and can’t wait to recreate it at home.
There were a lot of gorgeous and creative green smoothies on the sample table. I tried as many as I could and they were all delicious. There were some talented smoothie creators in our group, the judges had their work cut-out for them.
We heard from Aldi’s registered dietician Sylvia Klinger, who was funny, smart, and had a lot of great information to share.
What I found fascinating was the statistic on how much fresh food American households waste in a year.
One of my biggest pet peeves is letting food go to waste in our house, but even my household is not immune to this. I recently had to throw away an avocado and a head of green lettuce because it went bad before we had a chance to eat it (that’s just one example, I have plenty more where that came from). The bad food was a result of poor planning and being a little overzealous with my food purchases at the grocery store the week before.
A lot of households don’t purchase fresh produce because they’re afraid it’s going to go bad before they have a chance to eat it. The key to not letting it go to waste is to plan meals and snacks ahead of time and sticking with a list heading to the grocery store. Something I need to get better at.
Sylvia also shared her 10 “hero foods,” which she believed were the Top 10 foods that everyone should include in their diets for optimal nutritional balance.
Sylvia’s Hero Foods:
- Black Beans
- Low-Fat Dairy
- Whole Grain Pasta
She had a great tip for pureeing mushrooms and adding them to ground beef for taco filling. Mushrooms are full of nutrients so the simple addition not only adds flavors but ups the nutrional profile.
Lemon is another one. The juice of one lemon contains a healthy does of vitamin C, so add the juice to your next meal for a little flavor and vitamin C.
Finally, it was time to eat. Despite snacking all day, we couldn’t wait to sample the great dishes the Aldi kitchen had come up with. Each recipe is linked below to the Aldi website and 100% worth checking out.
My plate with a bit of everything (the sweet potatoes, steak, and salad were my favorites)
Paired with Aldi wine. Obviously.
We waddled back to the hotel after dinner and I had a blast staying up late catching up with Caitlin.
Caitlin was the first blogger friend I made when I moved to Orlando back in 2008. We were pretty much attached at the hip until she moved to North Carolina and I moved to Tampa. Even though we haven’t seen each other since 2011 (whoa!) we still talk online everyday and I consider her one of my very good friends. It was so much fun to catch up with her.
I’ll be back with day 2 from Aldi headquarters. This post is getting a little long winded.
In the mean time, I highly encourage you check out some of the amazing recipes the chefs at the Aldi Test Kitchen come up with HERE. Each recipe is created to be simple and easy to follow. They’re also amazing – I’ve already got a couple bookmarked for dinners next week!
This post is sponsored by Aldi. As always, all opinions are my own.