America’s Answer to Seasonal Sundries: The Mallomar

by Christine Adams Beckett

Years before Michael Pollan published his Omnivore’s Dilemma, the French were living (and eating) his mantra.  The French food culture has always been lauded the world over, not only for its haute cuisine and innovative presentations, but also for its sensible attitude towards how they nourish themselves.  Wines and cheeses are unique points of pride for every region, their varied topography and climate  allow for a fabulous variety of food to be cultivated within their borders.  In fact, it is the only country in Europe to be entirely self sufficient in their food production.  They were a very early leader in organic farming.  But most simply: fruits and vegetables are eaten seasonally.  In the dead of winter, root vegetables and game meats are on la carte; in the summer, tomatoes and fraises du bois return to the menu.

Children are fed what the adults eat.  Goldfish crackers are replaced by fresh breads and cheeses, chicken nuggets are an honest poulet roti, lentils and cauliflower are eaten most readily by les plus petits.  Picky eating doesn’t enter into the equation as it did for one American mother finding herself in the 6th Arrondissment of Paris with two American children masquerading as French ones.  She went through great lengths and expense to buy her picky 6 year-old blueberries in February, as it was one of the eight approved items on his very exclusive dietary list.  Yet their appearance on the table du gouter after school inspired fellow French moms to cluck disapproval.  To pay the exorbitant price for blueberries was an embarrassment, but to swallow the ozone via gas-guzzling delivery camion was insensitive.  To go outside of the country to buy food was unpatriotic.  It was all-in-all a cultural fail on behalf of the American pre-Pollan reading mother.

Never mind that on the snack table for other children attending La Halte Guarderie were rows of white baguettes (inarguably delicious and perfect in their carbohydrate laden selves), squares of dark chocolate, and pitchers of water laced with grenadine syrup.  All Marianne made, of course…

The Americans mused over chocolate sandwiches and their own answer to seasonal cuisine, à la New Yorkaise: the Mallomar.  An essential s’more in a neater package, the Mallomar has become a favorite amongst most notably those living in the the Metropolitan New York area, where 70% of them are sold.  Available only between October and March, reportedly because they would melt during summer transport, Mallomars have become a seasonal treat eagerly awaited (or hoarded) by the addict.  The skeptic recognizes a marketing gimmick, however, in a country as advanced as to find a way to deliver Jeni’s salty caramel ice cream in the dead of summer on blocks of dry ice.  Not that any Pollan-respecting New Yorker would ever summon an internal combustion engine to deliver a fix of crack cocaine in the form of salty sweet goodness, but the writer digresses….

The Mallomar may be so New York oriented as to earn a cameo appearance in  the film When Harry Met Sally: conjure a love struck Billy Crystal home alone on New Year’s Eve, watching Dick Clark, chin resting on a basketball popping back Mallomars like popcorn and declaring them “the greatest cookie of all time.”  But Bridge and Tunnel people rejoice!  The Mallomar was introduced to a grateful world in 1913 in West Hoboken (now Union City) New Jersey in the mere shadow of the Big Apple.  Just refer to the box, where their Jersey roots are most proudly lauded, although it also pronounces its new manufacturing headquarters.  In Canada.  Suppose it’s colder up there.

We may question the reasoning behind the cold weather availability, its distant but quaint, down market nod to French seasonal cuisine; and much like the French, we also might muse over the marketing hype of the red wine made from Gamay grapes of the  Beaujolais region.  Beaujolais Nouveau is introduced with great fanfare, originally a vintage to celebrate the end of harvest by taking their Gamays and sweeping them through an expedited fermentation process.  Beaujolais Nouveau is bottled only 6 – 8 weeks from whence its grapes were plucked from the vine.

Until WWII, the quick brew was only meant for local consumption, but in 1951 the Union Interprofessionelle du Vins de Beaujolais relaxed the rules on release dates, making way for a greater availability of the first taste of Gamay wine.  Enter the UIVB’s Georges Duboeuf, who saw the advantage of the immediate release of his Beaujolais Nouveau from that year’s harvest as good for cash flow and for marketing.  He came up with the idea of a race to Paris with the quickly finished product, which eventually grew to a much-anticipated annual event to promote during the third week of November.  It has grown to be a tremendous export for France; the #1 consumers of the Quick Wine are Germany, Japan, and yes, the United States of America.

Unlike other wines, the Beaujolais does not improve with age, since it has been sent through an expedited fermentation process.  Unlike other red wines, it is best served chilled, at about 55 degrees Farenheit.  A common site on the American Thanksgiving table due to the coinciding date, and to increase yearly demand, it is recommended that the Gamay grapes be consumed within the bottling year.

It comes as happenstance that the Mallomar is released just weeks before Beaujolias Nouveau, and makes a lovely accompaniment.  Add a little Jeni’s salty caramel ice cream and you have quite a gouter sucré, although not one that is particularly Michael Pollan proof.  As for strategic marketing, it has been overheard that all three components of this complex, full bodied feast might be most strategically displayed next to the Midol at every CVS across our great nation.  Now there’s a marketing concept.

Meantime, blueberries from Mexico are on sale at Montclair’s King’s Supermarket this week.  And they’re delicious over Fage Greek yogurt, which is made, ironically, in Johnstown Industrial Park, just 200 miles north of New York City, regardless of its Athenian roots.  But it’s still all Greek to us.  Bon Appetit!

Click here for Montclair’s own Steven Colbert’s take on our American seasonal treat