Friday, June 30, 2017

Utz Quality Foods

Update Review, June 2017

Several years ago, I discovered Utz at Phat Philly, as I wrote about in my original review of the chips.   I tried a few varieties, thought they were good, and, moved on with life.  I love snack foods, and the chips were good, but, I didn't go seeking out more products.

And then I tried the pub mix.  I love snacks in general, but my absolute weakness is mixed snacks, where I can rummage through a mix, picking out the items I want most at that moment (hello, Chex mix, in all its varieties!).  The pub mix delivered on this as well.

So I took a step back to finally learn about Utz.  They are based in Pennsylvania, which I knew.  But I didn't know they are the largest independent privately held snack maker in the US.  Nor did I know that they started as a husband and wife, in the 1920s, with her making chips by hand in their house, and him delivering them to stores.  I think they've come a long way since then, like buying Zapp's, who's unique flavored chips I've tried before.

Chips (regular, kettle, or even lard based) and pretzels are their primary products, but they also make puffs, popcorn, tortillal chips, pork rinds, snack mixes, even crackers and dips.  This time around, I tried a snack mix, and pretzels.

Barrels

"When you’re ready to party and entertain, there’s nothing better than Utz Snacks – and we’re totally down with that! That’s why we make giant barrelfuls of all your faves, so you don’t run out!"
Utz makes a number of different snacks packaged in barrels, including all the crowd pleasers: cheese balls, caramel corn, pork rinds, and, savory snack mixes.   The mixes are dubbed poker mix, pub mix, and party mix.  I have no idea how they decided which mix is more "poker" appropriate vs "pub", as all are a mix of assorted shapes and flavors of pretzels, corn snacks, cheesy snacks, and chips.  The "Party Mix" is more chip focused, with 4 different types of chips in the mix, but the other two are near equals in variety, just with totally different choices.  Party Mix also comes in smaller sized bags, for when barrels aren't quite what you need.
Pub Mix.
"When you’re ready to party and entertain, there’s nothing better than utz pub mix. Contains honey roasted sesame chips, nacho bagel chips, oriental rice crackers, pretzel Stix, seasoned pretzel twistix, and Worcestershire rye chips."

I had the pub mix, although I was not in a pub.

I really liked this the.  I liked each element for different reasons, and although they combined together nicely, I preferred to just eat one type at a time.  The sizes of each item made for easy eating, only a bite or two each, and I liked the variety of shapes, as it encouraged my picking through the mix in a way I enjoyed.

I was amused how my choice of items changed based on mood.  Some days, I *really* wanted the cheesy nacho bagel chips, others I adored the sweet sesame chips, and others, I just wanted simple rice crackers.  The only item I never wanted?  The pretzels.
Sticks: Pretzel Stix, Cheddar Cheese Twistix, Honey Mustard Twistix.
The only element I didn't care for was the simple "pretzel stix", since I just don't care for pretzels.  They were, well, pretzel sticks.

The "seasoned pretzel twistix" were two varieties, honey mustard and cheddar cheese, both about the same length as the pretzel sticks, but twisty-style, and not really pretzel-y, as in, they didn't have a white interior and brown exterior, and they were softer.  I liked both flavors, although I didn't realize the honey mustard was supposed to be honey mustard until I read this description.  It seemed more like ... herby?  The cheddar cheese ones were coated in orange powder, that of course got all over my fingers, and had a good (fake) cheese quality to it.  Still, these were my last two picks, besides the pretzels, and not an item I ever found myself digging for.
Chips: Honey Roasted Sesame, Worcestershire Rye, Nacho Cheese Bagel.
There were three types of "chips" - honey roasted sesame chips, round flat nacho flavored bagel chips, and round flat darker Worcestershire rye chips.

Most of the chips were broken into smaller bits, but even full size pieces were still bite size.  The sesame ones were the only sweet element in the mix, and I appreciated them for when I felt like something sweet rather than savory, and I liked the texture from the seeds.  I also sometimes kinda loved them mixed with the cheesy elements, in a Chicago popcorn kinda way.  Overall, the honey roasted sesame chips were probably my first pick.

The Worcestershire rye chips reminded me of the flavors of Chex mix, and made me quite nostalgic for my mom's homemade Chex mix.  They were particularly good used as crackers with some soft triple cream cheese.

The bagel chips were cheesy just like the twists, but better coated, and had a tiny bit of additional zesty (I guess nacho?) spicing to them.  These were often my favorites, when I was looking for something besides the sweet sesame chips.
Oriental Rice Crackers.
The final element is oriental rice crackers, in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and colors.  They were fairly standard rice crackers, slight soy sauce flavor, good enough, but not particularly interesting.
Typical Handful.
Most of the chips and twistix were broken pieces.  The rice crackers and pretzels seemed less prone to the breakage.  The distribution of items was great, nothing dominated (I hate it when mixes are majority pretzels!).

This shows a typical handful, in terms of assortment, and piece sizes.
Country Store Pretzel Stix.
I also tried a barrel of just pretzel sticks.  I didn't seek these out, obviously, since I didn't like them in the mix.

These tasted exactly like slightly bigger versions of the stix found in the Pub Mix.  I'm not sure what made these "Country Store", or what was different, besides the size.  Meh to these, but I'm not one for hard style pretzels anyway.

Original Review, February 2015

The other day I reviewed Phat Philly, a cheesesteak shop in the Mission.

Along with their signatures cheesesteaks and fries, they also carry a few Philly classic treats, like Tastycakes and Utz Chips.  I hadn't ever heard of Utz before, but apparently they are a big thing in Philly, and they make a variety of chips, pretzels, and snack mixes.  Since I always love trying new varieties of chips, I couldn't resist grabbing a bag to take with me, to enjoy later.
"The Crab Chip"
I had to pick the most interesting sounding flavor: crab.  What on earth is a crab flavored chip?

It turns out, the answer is: a chip seasoned with Old Bay.  So no, they did not taste like crab.  Instead, they tasted like Old Bay.  Or basically, like a barbecue chip.  They looked like a barbecue chip too, in color.  They had the same slightly sweet, slightly tangy thing going on that a barbecue chip does.  If you gave them to me without a label, I'd say they were just a slightly different barbecue.  The seasoning was very heavy in the salt, perhaps too much.  But besides that, I was intrigued enough to easily finish the bag.

The chips themselves were decent, thin sliced, crispy.  Not kettle style exactly, but not certainly not baked.  Better than most brands at this price point.

I ate several of them plain to taste the flavors, but then decided to try something out.  In my head, I thought, "well, people eat chips with dip" and "I love my barbecue chips dipped in onion dip, or even yogurt, and these are basically like barbecue chips".  So, yes, I wanted to dip them in something.  I'd just finished a crab louie salad, which is what made me inspired to dig the crab chips out of my pantry in the first place, as I wanted more crab.  If crab goes with louie dressing in a salad, and chips go with dip, then, doesn't it follow that crab chips would be great dunked in louie dressing?  Don't judge.  They were awesome this way.  Creamy dressing, tangy chips ... perfect.  The bag stood no chance once I discovered this combo.

I wouldn't go out of my way to find Utz chips, but if I were ever somewhere that had them again, and I wanted a crunchy, salty snack, I'd get them again.
Salt 'n Vinegar.
Well, I found Utz again :)

This time, I was craving salty, so salt 'n vinegar it was.

Again, basic crispy, thin style chip.  They somewhat reminded me of classic Lays.  Tangy vinegar was the prominent flavor, with some salt.

Nothing wrong with these, but not particularly exciting.
Sour Cream and Onion.
These looked exactly like the salt 'n vinegar.  That is, they had no visible specs of something green indicating onions, nor white powder indicating sour cream.

And ... they tasted pretty plain.  Not even very salty.

I do like the thin style, but these were majorly lacking in the flavor department. 
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