Trader Joe’s Truffle Mousse Pate is without a doubt the fanciest thing I’ve bought from a grocery store. Fancier than the Dukkah, fancier than the organic stone-ground Mexican chocolate, fancier than a lot of things .
Untangling The Fancy Talk
What is a pate? What is a truffle mousse? How do you render truffles into a mousse? Why is the pate vacuum packed in a tiny, plastic tray? What is the meaning of the weird, centimeter of gelatin coating the bottom of the pate?
Look, I won’t try and delude you here – I’m a johnny-lunch pail sort of gourmand, a brutally unrefined taster of interesting nibbles and such. I, and I’m really emptying out my soul here, have never had pate before. I don’t really have a really solid grasp of the pate world. I couldn’t tell you what marks a good pate form a bad pate, or alert you if you were about to bite into a pate smeared brioche that had gone south a week ago. If you had seen me at the Trader Joe’s you would have seen a curious, rotund man quizzically turning over a block of pate in front of his eyes, clearly befuddled. This is all beyond my ken – so this is your chance to bail out now if you fancy yourself something of a pate snob. What you are about to read are the unvarnished musings of a pate initiate.
Okay, first question – let’s see if we can figure this out. What the hell are the truffle, the mousse, the brandy aspic and the pate all doing to each other in this thing?
Let’s start with what I know. Pate is any chilled, meat paste – most famously encountered in the form of foie gras – a pate made of goose livers. Trader Joe’s isn’t delivering on goose liver, but decided to keep it in the avian organ family and is giving us chicken liver instead. When you’re selling a ground organ paste, and trying to market it to humans instead of cats, you need to do two things – give it a fancy foreign name (check), and ensure you’re doing something suitably cruel to justify the cost. Goose liver pate has come under heavy fire in the last few years, in California particularly, due to the rather inhuman method of it’s creation. Namely, a goose is locked in a box and force fed until it’s liver swells to triple the normal size, at which point it is butchered and the liver cut out. Trader Joe’s seems to be rather deliberately side-stepping the issue by sourcing their livers from chickens instead of geese – though you’ve got to imagine that TJ’s is only fooling themselves at this point. If you’re going to be outraged about the geese, you’re going to be outraged about the chickens.
Continuing the foie gras similarities is the addition of truffle mousse. Truffles are, of course, famous for being really expensive mushrooms that pigs hunt. Truffle mousse is most commonly made when truffles are whipped up with foie gras, though in this case it is our chicken liver pate they are mixed with. Presumably this is to make the pate very tasty. Unfortunately, the flavors of the mushroom and truffle mousse, being folded into the chicken liver pate, is beyond my proletarian tongue’s ability to tease out.
The final noteworthy addition is the brandy aspic, which takes the form of a thick level of gelatin that’s congealed along the bottom of the pate. Why stick a layer of brandy-infused meat jelly on the bottom of a truffle mousse pate? Well, primarily because it’s traditional to include some sort of refined alcohol (aspic or otherwise) with pate, and having tried it I can only imagine that it’s there to offset the otherwise overpoweringly intense flavor of the pate itself. By itself, this aspic jelly doesn’t taste like much – whatever bite the brandy had has been much muted by it’s inclusion in a meat jelly – so it gives your tongue a cool respite from the heavy liver and truffle flavor.
The pate itself tastes musky, very musky, and thick with very savory, complex meaty flavors. It is not overly salty, or any other taste –but rather overwhelms you with it’s heavy, liver taste. Pate is, as we discussed, basically just liver – and if you’ve ever had ground liver in any of its forms you simply have to amplify that taste in your head several times and you’ve got an approximate sense of what to expect.
The Error Of Cheap Pate
Most shocking is that Trader Joe’s Truffle Mousse Pate – for all the truffles and pate and brandy aspic, is reasonably priced at $6.00 / 8 oz. A little pate goes a long way, so this little brick should be enough to please the whole party. That is, if your party is the type where people are going to be pleased by cheap pate. God knows I love Trader Joe’s for their true dedication to affordable prices, but in this case I believe it’s actually the final mark against them.
Pate, after all, is like caviar in that it is appreciated more for its elegance than its taste. There is a food to compliment every hue of the human spectrum, and pate just happens to fill the niche of hoighty-toity cuisine. A budget priced pate undercuts it’s reason for existence. Caviar and truffles and pate are good and all – but there’s a reason they aren’t potato chip flavors. People aren’t flocking to truffles and pate because it’s the absolute taste sensation, it’s value lays in the price at the cash register. Offer an expensive pate and you’re a classy host, a cheap pate and you’re a cheap host – taste has always been secondary.
That said, let us never underestimate the trumpeting blast of democratization. If you, like myself, have never had a pate, let alone a pate infused with black truffles, then why not pick up some crackers and give it a whirl. Surely, there has never been a more opportune time then now.
Would I Recommend It: Only to the very curious.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t host those kinds of parties.
Final Synopsis: A cheap version of a very upscale snack.