Bourbon's original Cheese Okaki (about 200 yen per bag, plus tax) is a shining example of Japan's awesome ability to mix the confectionary East and West. It combines the downhome Japanese goodness of an old-fashioned, shoyu-sweetened rice cracker and the undying Western (OK, American) love of sandwich crackers and cheese. Like the best snacks, it is a study in contradictions: Salty yet sweet, crunchy on the outside and melty on the inside. The latest regular Cheese Okaki actually bills itself as the "harmony" between aromatic cheese and special shoyu sauce, a piece of great marketing that my mouth can hardly argue with! You see, in the dark days, before import stores started popping up everywhere, these were the standby version of the Ritz cheese crackers that we wayward gaijin all craved. Now Ritz is here in force, but they're too late—I've seen the cheesy yellow light and can never go back.
Well, as this year marks the snack's 30th anniversary, Bourbon has decided to up the ante and go "Premium." Honestly, everything is premium these days—it's a catchall word for products that are better, hipper, and (despite being hipper) usually aimed at adults (mid 30s to mid 50s). In other words, people like me! Naturally, I was up for a taste-test. Is the new "Premium Cheese Okaki" really as golden as the package suggests? Or will my image of Bourbon forever be
tarnished by this experience? I'm really, really sorry about that last joke. But I had to. ;)
When I finally bought my Premium snack (only 300 yen per bag, plus tax) I was glad to see that
each bite-sized morsel still looked like a wheel, a shape that truly needs no reinvention. The
biggest difference is that the town car wheel has now become a monster truck one, made thicker by exactly twice the cheese inside! Taking a bite, I could feel the satisfying burst of the cheese out of the top and sides. This article says that Bourbon actually used two types of cheese and whipped them to make things mas delicioso, and their efforts aren't wasted. The magic is in the mix once again, with the almost wine-worthy cheese combining with a somehow deeper, shoyu-sweetened experience. My verdict: Two times the cheese really does make the difference! Here, compare the visual evidence for yourself:
Premium Cheese Okaki is almost as tasty as it's regular brother. But if I had my way, I'd keep the double cheese volume and nix the new, thicker special sauce baked into the crust. There are as many types of shoyu as there are sake varieties, and it's used on everything here. I love it on most things, but it was a bit heavy in this case. I've gotten so used to more salt, less sugar in my diet, and I found I couldn't eat more than a few of these new Premium snacks before heading to the water well again! Japanese adults will savor these snacks, but I think my fellow Americans especially would devour them!
I have no idea how long the Premium version will hang around, but fear not: Cheese Okaki is here to stay. And if you try it, you too may just rethink your love affair with Ritz Crackers.