- By Tess Vella-Collette
When I was 3 years old I never went anywhere without a purse. Sometimes it was stuffed with toys, sometimes it was empty, but it was always in my hand.
My dad called me the bag lady. One thing was certain: I was a girly-girl through and through. Now I’m in my 30s and nothing has changed -- makeup, clothes, purses are my thing. If you want to know why I’m late to your party, it’s probably because I’m doing my eyeliner just so.
I’ve learned in life that the pricier the liner, the better the result. And I have tried just about every liquid liner under the sun. Along the same lines, I was on the hunt for the best dry shampoo. What would give me a fresh look without actually having to shower? In my efforts I have spent upwards of $30, down to $3. I found that my $5.99 Dove dry shampoo is better than those fancy celebrity hairstylist brands that cost a great deal more. It got me thinking about the other things I should be splurging or skimping on.
When it comes to the culinary world, I have some pretty hard and fast rules about what kitchen items and food items are worth spending the money and what you can get away with for less.
Butter: It makes everything better, this much we know. But just adding a bunch of Kroger brand butter to your dish isn’t necessarily going to make a difference. In my experience, spending a little bit more on high quality unsalted butter can take what you make from meh to amazing. For my everyday use, I stick to Kerry Gold Butter. It’s 100% pure Irish butter, hormone-free, and made from grass-fed cows. Why is that better? The butter is much richer in nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. Why does it taste better? This butter makes for a creamier, nuttier taste than your average cheap butter on the shelves. It’s amazing how the base of a good butter can make all the difference in your food, so for butter, I urge you to splurge.
Bread: You know that expression “coolest thing since sliced bread?” Well, in my household, sliced bread is extremely uncool. Pre-packaged bread is filled with sugar, frozen for up to a year (!) then put on the shelves, and generally speaking just doesn’t taste that good. We are lucky enough to have amazing bakeries in the Dayton region, and fresh made bread tastes about 10 times better! Packaged bread may taste okay (again, because it’s loaded with sugar), but freshly baked bread’s flavor is more nuanced, pure, and satisfying. Bread is a staple in our lives, so why not feed yourself with something that’s actually really delicious instead of just filling? Spend a few extra bucks on the good stuff, and you won’t be sorry.
Cheese: You cannot get good cheese without spending some money, it’s just that simple. Those Kraft singles are absolute garbage and should never be consumed, I don’t care how conveniently wrapped they are. Cheese should not be neon, people! Even a cheap mozzarella can have little to no flavor, aside from the plastic in which it’s wrapped. It’s worth the money to splurge on some cheese, whether you use it in your cooking or for a carefully curated cheese board, because the flavors in nicer cheeses are more developed and can highlight the fruits and vegetables with which they are served. You don’t have to spend $45 per pound necessarily, but certainly up your budget where it counts. The cheese I use the most in cooking is Parmesan Reggiano. This is fromage gold. Any old cheese may call itself Parmesan, but this is the real deal, the Godfather, and a staple in any good Italian girl’s diet. I may skimp a little bit on the price of cheese for my sandwich, but when it comes to grating over my pasta, or including in my meatballs: well, I don’t mess around.
Wine: A few years ago my husband and I were gifted a bottle of Dom Perignon. We saved it for a special occasion and drank it the last night of our honeymoon. It was....good. But that’s it...just good. Was it $250 good? I don’t know. I’ve consumed a lot of good wine in my life and it was certainly not the best thing I’ve ever tasted. One of my favorite sparkling wines is Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, which retails for about $40. If given the choice between the two, I think I’d choose Schramsberg time and time again. Sure I’ve had nice glasses of wine that are expensive, and I can certainly taste the difference between a $65 bottle of Chardonnay and some Barefoot crap, but I also think there is a lot of affordable wine out there that you can drink without breaking the bank. It’s hard to know what to look for in a bottle, what’s going to taste like swill and what isn’t, but the more I learn about wine the more I recognize that expensive doesn’t always mean better.
Dry Pasta: Huge disclaimer here: there is nothing like fresh-made pasta. It will make you rethink food as we know it, so please note that I am only talking about dry pasta here. There are a lot of great quality, pasta options in the grocery store, but this is one of those items that I don’t think makes a huge difference whether you spend $10 or $2.99. If you cook pasta well, if the ingredients that go into it are fresh and thoughtfully prepared, you season it well, and use GOOD BUTTER, then the pasta may not be the star of your dish, but I bet the dish will be pretty damn good. If you want the pasta to be the star, then make it, but otherwise, your store brand shells will suit you just fine.
Organic Produce: I could write an entire novel about what “organic” really means, how it’s regulated, and whether or not it’s just a buzzword leading you to shell out the dough, but I’m going to put that rant aside for now. In my opinion, there are only a few types of produce where it’s important to buy organic. A rule for me is: if you’re ripping or peeling anything off the fruit or veggie before it’s prepared, then you don’t have to pay the premium. A stalking veggie like celery is a good example of produce I’d pay a little extra, but a banana is not. I’m ripping the peel of the banana off so the part affected by the “organic benefits” is going right in trash. Your favorite herbs, buy organic. But things you’ve got to peel? Put away your purse, they don’t require the splurge.
There you have it, the Ciao Vella guide of where to spend and where to save. Happy shopping!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tess is a restaurant professional, home-baker and downtown Dayton dweller. When she's not mixing drinks for restaurant patrons, she's drinking champagne, buying shoes, or writing her blog, Ciao Vella. You can read about her home recipes, party planning tips, and more at www.CiaoVellaBlog.com.
This article originally appeared on the Ciao Vella blog.