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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Frugal Son Weighs Price, Quality, Value

Another interesting post via Frugal Son, on his own, on a budget for the first time. I loved this one (the sausage post!) because it embodies the kind of process Aristotle discusses in Nichomachean Ethics: when you are searching for the right level of anything, you may overshoot. So, if you are toooooo cheap, you might try to get to "normal," but go too far and be wasteful. Then you have to retract a bit. And so on. So read on to see what Frugal Son thinks about a very expensive sausage he tested.

Sunday January 22, 2012: Bref. J’avais decidé de depenser plus en achetant moins.
Unfortunately it is the month that I have the least money that I have decided to implement a new plan, in which I buy less stuff (mainly to eat, although this really applies to everything) while spending more money. “What’s that?”, you say, “Surely that is a typo! You must mean buy more while spending less, or, at the very least, buy less while spending less, but buying less while spending more?! That doesn’t make any sense!” No, no, you’re eyes haven’t deceived you; I’m trying to buy less but spend more. Take for example the humble saucisse sec. Normally, I buy the cheapest saucisse sec at the Carrefour market, which works out to about 6€/kg. But what do I spend the saved money on? More low quality stuff! What I’m trying to do now is have less stuff, but buy higher quality when I do get it.
I started this plan a few weeks ago when I went to the market in search of an artisanal sausage and ended up spending 11€ (that’s right, 11€, or $14) on 300g of saucisse sec de sanglier from a Corsican charcuter at the market. Admittedly, this may have been a bit over-board (although the saucisse sec de sanglier was very good, much better than my normal Carrefour crap), but it was a step in the right direction. The next week I toned down my sausage expenditures and instead bought a higher quality of saucisse sec at Carrefour (10€/kg), which is noticeably better than the cheapest stuff, but not notably worse than the very expensive saucisse sec de sanglier. That’s my goal: to find an equilibrium between price and quality so that I am eating better things that are still “worth it.”
Next on my list of things to improve was instant coffee. I know many might say that instant coffee is inherently low quality and that if I want to improve what I need to do is buy ground coffee, but I challenge those people to try some of the new instant coffees out there, especially ones made for the European market. My instant coffee of choice since my Nantes’ days was Nescafé’s noir et corsé instant coffee (5.20€ for 200g, 26€/kg), but, since I was running low, I decided to replace it with the deluxe Carte Noire instant coffee (5.40€ for 100g, 54€/kg, made by a Kraft subsidiary). After extensive testing—that is to say two to three cups per day for over a week now—I’ve come to the conclusion that the Carte Noire also isn’t worth the price boost since in terms of taste I find it equal to, or even a bit less pleasant, than my old Nescafé. Lesson learned, and I don’t even feel bad about paying so much more since it still works out to about 11¢ per cup.
I’ve also started to spend more on my butter and daily cheese. Paying more for butter is definitely worth it since the taste is noticeably better. As for cheese, I used to get the cheapest camembert, but now I’ve started spending about 1€ extra so that I can get camembert made with lait cru, as it’s meant to be made. Again, the taste is noticeably better.
The last thing that I’ve “upgraded” so far is cured ham. I don’t usually eat sandwiches, but when I do I like to make them with jambon cru, or cured ham. At Carrefour it can be had for 1€ for 100g (10€/kg) whereas the cured hams at the market run upwards of 36€/kg. Two weeks ago I got 100g of jambon de parme, prosciutto, and boy was it good! This week I got some jambon de Serrano and, imagine, it was even better! First off, 100g of jambon de parme is more than twice as many slices of the jambon cru from Carrefour because the butcher actually slices it for you and he can slice it incredibly thin on his big scary machine. Jambon de Serrano can be sliced even thinner so it works out to three times as many slices! Secondly, the flavor of the Serrano and Parma ham can’t even be compared to the Carrefour stuff. Serrano is, for now, my favorite, though next weekend I’m going to try the top notch stuff, some jambon iberico at 76€/kg! The Serrano is, of course, salty, but it’s more than that, extending into the range of umami savoriness, with notes of butter and even dried apricots! I might sound like I’m giving a facetious, mocking wine review, but that’s really what I taste when I have a little piece of jambon de Serrano; and trust me, a little piece is all you need!
Once I have more money I’m going to start applying this new philosophy to all aspects of my life.


Duchesse said...

This is an excellent philosophy (pretty much how we live.) A very important thing is that FS does not fall prey to considering what he "deserves" or "should have". And what a trap that is!

He just lets his steadily-developing taste guide him, forsaking hype and noting that more intense or complex flavours can satisfy more, at lower quantity. He is becoming a connaisseur.

Spend where an increment in price leads to an exponential increase in quality, generally more available in France than in North America. Do not spend were you can make up the difference yourself, such as buying an unripe melon and ripening it yourself just to that perfect point.

Revanche said...

I absolutely love this. FS is becoming discerning about food but gaining a bit of other wisdom along the way, I think.