June was taken up with taste-testing Pal-o-Mine chocolate bars. It started with an item on Information Morning on Saint John CBC Radio. After an absence of several months, Pal-o-Mine bars were back on New Brunswick store shelves. But to the shock and horror of many, they were different.
The original fudge filling was now “soft and mushy” in the words of unhappy consumers. Ganong Brothers, makers of Pal-o-Mine since 1920, said that new equipment required a change in the formulation of the filling.
Over the past years in New Brunswick, I had seen – and liked – the distinctive pack in candy shelves. But I had never bought one. I regret that lapse, because now I have to try it. So next time at my local Irving, I buy one.
Taste Test #1
Inside the pack are two bars. I bite into one. Oh, I have a new pal. Chocolate coating a soft filling with little crunchy bits. I resist eating the other half, keeping it for my husband to try.
It’s good, he says. I say, it’s the best chocolate bar I’ve ever tasted in my life! He takes another bite and says it’s like the filling in some boxed chocolates, only in a bar. Yes, I think, that’s it. That almost translucent syrup that melts into the chocolate, only in a bar with crunchy bits.
A few days after the initial CBC piece, they did a blind taste test of the new and original Pal-o-Mines. A listener kindly donated a couple original bars for the cause. Their taster easily picked out the original – and it gets his vote as best.
How good is it, if it’s better than what I tasted? I wish I could taste the original. Still, I know I’m going to write about this controversy. But I need photographs, which I hadn’t thought to take before having only the empty package left.
Taste Test #2
So next time he’s at the Irving, my husband picks up two. I take pictures, then open one and bite in. It’s totally different than the first one. The inside is “crystallized sugar fudge” as CBC listeners described the original. I keep the other half so he can taste it. It’s totally different, he says. We agree: this is good but, Pal-o-Mine heresy or not, that first one was better.
I open the remaining bar. Same fudge centre, so It’s an original one too. Now I have pictures of the original but still none of the new. I also need confirmation of our opinion. I need another new one.
Taste Test #3
Husband comes home with bars from Lawtons Drugs and the Great Canadian Dollar Store. I bite into the dollar store one: it’s soft and caramel-y with a hint of peanut butter. It looks like the original and nothing like the first one. It tastes different than either of them. I try the Lawtons bars. They’re the same as the dollar store one.
My husband tastes them. Caramel-y, he says, not like the others at all. Number codes on the packages give no clues of their provenance.
We agree on our assessment of the three Pal-o-Mine types we’ve tried. The caramel-y ones – the new formulation, I’m guessing – are okay. They taste nothing like the original, although the filling looks similar. They’re good but not exceptional in the world of chocolate bars.
The original – which we assume Taste Test #2 to be – is distinctive in taste, and good. I can see why long-time fans are upset about the change. It would be a shock to bite into your chocolate bar and finding it’s not at all what it has always been.
But we haven’t found another like the first one. So we don’t know. I wonder if I happened to pick up one that was made in error? Maybe someone in the factory got mixed up and poured the filling meant for boxed chocolates into the Pal-o-Mine machine. Oops, they realized after shipping some of the them out.
For me, and my husband, the all-time best is the outlier, the very first one we tried. The one I was fortunate to buy in early June. Or maybe unfortunate, because that Pal-o-Mine is now my Moby Dick.