Dear Dolmio Australia,
As a time-poor cook - and a skills-poor woman - I have long enjoyed your handy, ready-made pasta sauces.
Whether it’s pouring out the Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella to concoct a fresh pasta bake; sizzling some extra bacon to go with the classic Carbonara; or trying to answer the eternal question of which is better, Garden Vegetables Pasta Sauce (zucchini and capsicum! So wholesome!) or Farmhouse Vegetables Pasta Sauce (carrots and sweet corn! So rustic!); jars of Dolmio have maintained a warm and familiar presence in my pantry, alongside the dry cat biscuits and occasional meal moths.
You can sense a “but” coming, can’t you, Dolmio? And I’m not talking about the butt that an excessive fondness for carbs has seen stretch my denim close to breaking point.
Unfortunately, it is my sad duty to inform you that something truly terrible has happened under your watch. I am referring to the production of the Limited Edition “Smoky Parmesan & Pecorino” Pasta Sauce.
During a recent visit to my local Woolworths, I passed the pasta sauce shelves only to spot the Dolmio range on special for $2 a jar. I then spied a hot pink stripe across the usual green-ish label advertising a certain line as “Limited Edition.”
“Well, fancy that!” I exclaimed aloud, much to the surprise of a nearby staffer who was busy re-stacking bags of gluten-free tagliatelle. The phrase “limited edition” seemed much more in-keeping with Cadbury’s increasingly desperate attempts to get Insta-trending with bizarre flavour combinations (wtf is “Hedgehog”, really?); but sure, I can see how it would be a fun diversion for a pasta sauce empire.
With your superlative “Four Cheese Pasta Sauce” one of my favourites, I felt certain that “Smoky Parmesan & Pecorino” would be right up my alley. Clearly parmesan is the reigning il monarca of classic savoury cheese flavouring - even bog standard supermarket brands like Perfect Italiano get the job done. Pecorino is an admittedly more acquired taste, given its origins in sheep udders, not cow, but I have enjoyed it in moderation. Given their percentages in the ingredient list at 1% and 1.5% respectively, I felt sure that was enough to give a zesty clap of flavour, instead of, as I was to discover, a depressing slide into ennui disguised as a meal hack.
I prepared what I am now calling the “Dread Sauce” according to the jar’s instructions: cook 500g of diced chicken until brown, cover with the sauce, simmer, then serve over pasta.
This was described as “a new spin on Alfredo”, but Sir/Madam, I must tell you - if Alfredo was an actual person he would sue you for defamation. The thick and flaccid sauce I experienced in my evening meal bore about as much resemblance to Alfredo as a milkcrate does to a chair: sure, you can sit on both of them but only one will keep your ass comfortable.
That is not to say that I have experienced some ungodly rectal emissions courtesy of the “Smoky Parmesan & Pecorino”; only to suggest that as I write it has been less than an hour since I ate, and as such I wouldn’t be surprised if the night ahead was particularly dark and full of terrors.
Now I admit I added some chopped button mushrooms into the pan to increase the vegetable content of my meal, but button mushrooms themselves are fairly tasteless. If only I could say the same thing of this sauce. This sauce is what a fart would taste like, if it lit itself on fire, smelled itself, vomited in disgust, ate its own vomit and farted itself back out.
I spent $7 on fresh chicken breast (from an RSPCA-approved farm) to accompany this pasta sauce, and frankly I feel deep regret that a chicken gave its life for my sustenance, but was disrespected in death by this viscous blend of cream and melancholia.
The chicken deserved better.
When I picture the Dolmio flavour factory, I imagine a sensory delight, with stovetops full of lovingly worn copper pots, bubbling over with fresh vine-ripened tomato mixtures, each absorbing the delicate balance of herbs, spices, vegetables and modified cornstarch thickener so key to all of your products.
The “Smoky Parmesan & Pecorino” made me picture a medieval torture chamber full of joyless automatons and a single consumptive human supervisor who cry-wanks into every batch.
I realise my words here have been harsh, Dolmio, and I do not say these things lightly.
I personally found it unfair that when I was in high school, “The Dolmio Grin” was used as the punchline of a none-too-salubrious joke involving a sex act and the female menstrual cycle.
I didn’t raise a peep when you sacked your iconic troupe of Italian stereotypes from your TV commercials and replaced them with muppet lookalikes because clearly the humans asked for too big a pay rise.
I didn’t even mind that one of the said muppets, the moustachioed Papa character, is quoted as saying “It’sa ready!” on the back of the label of this jar.
In fact, I’ll confess to you now Dolmio, that one night in Rome I bamboozled the concierge of a tiny two-star hotel into giving me a discount by adopting my very best Italian... accent.
In my defence, my partner and I had gotten stuck in the capital after a free concert given by Paul McCartney outside the Colosseum to wrap up the end of the national culture week. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to see “Live and Let Die” performed live (the second-best Bond theme, just pipped by “Goldfinger”, I’m sure you’ll agree), we found a spot about halfway down the Via dei Fori Imperiali where we could clearly see Sir Paul… on several big screen TVs. Mr McCartney himself was a small figure in the distance.
I just wanted to stay until he performed “Live and Let Die”, because really, The Beatles catalogue is fine, but nothing rocks more than that choral “you know you did” refrain, interrupted by that heavy, organ-like declarative chord structure that functions almost as a chorus, before changing gears into that driving guitar riff and those shrieking climactic strings.
Little did I know that clearly Sir Paul knows the peak value of “Live and Let Die” as it was his second encore, and final song of the night. So rather than make the last train to our somewhat scary but budget-friendly cabin grounds about 30 minutes out of the city, we found ourselves at 1am splashing out instead on a basic (yet for us, truly luxurious) double room.
Despite my excitement for Sir Paul and an ensuite, backpackers don’t survive long without haggling skills, and I stand by my use of limited actual Italian like “prego” and “grazie” intermingled with pseudo-Italian like “We only got-sa these-a sixty euros, can-a we please-a stay?” and a lot of hand gestures to bargain.
But in this instance, Dolmio, there’s no justification for “Smoky Parmesan & Pecorino”.
I humbly beg that you consign this nightmarish ordeal of a recipe to the Dolmio history books. Notch it up as a lesson learned, a market-testing exercise. Do not subject any more of my fellow Australians, decent, hard-working, pasta-loving people to something that somehow tastes both blandly clammy and excrementally obnoxious at the same time.
Banish this Schrodinger's pasta sauce from your range, keep one jar tightly locked down as a reminder of what evil can lurk in the world (like that last vial of smallpox), and let us all return to wearing the (non-sexual) Dolmio grin.
Yours in pasta sauce,