Life Christmas

Saturday 20 September 2014

You can still spread that festive cheer on a budget

Chrissie Russell

Published 10/12/2013 | 21:00

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Tuck in: A festive dinner can be assembled on a budget, as Chrissie Russell discovered. Photo: Martin Maher

It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid -- or perhaps there is, if you're looking at your bank balance and you're not quite sure how to make it stretch.

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We all know that as a nation we like to go a bit OTT this time of year, spending more on the festive season than anyone else in Europe.

Surveys put the average spend per household at €894, with 28pc of that, or approximately €258.84, going on Christmas food.

Research shows that most of us feel inclined to 'trade up' during the festive season, spending more on what we perceive as 'high-end' products in a bid to impress Christmas visitors or simply because we believe a celebration demands spending more.

But the truth is that when it comes to your Christmas dinner staples, spending more doesn't always guarantee a better tasting product or value for money.

In fact, many award-winning products and taste-test champions can be found on the supermarket shelves for a fraction of the price of fancy rivals.

From Champers to Christmas puds, it's possible to keep luxury on the menu without forking out a fortune.

When weary winter visitors come to stay, what better way to welcome them than with a glass of bubbly and a sumptuous mince pie?

Perhaps surprisingly, it's budget supermarket chain Aldi who leads the way on fabulous fizz. Their Aldi Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut (€19.99) was blind taste-tested by international wine experts who rated the bottle above some of the world's most prestigious brands. At the 2013 Wine Challenge, it was ranked above Veuve Clicquot La Grade Dame 2004 (which retails at around €169.95) and Moet & Chandon Imperial NV (€46.66).

Described by the consumer survey experts at Which? as 'lush, spicy and juicy' with 'thin, crisp, light' pastry, Aldi's Mince Pies (€2.49 for six) trumped offerings from fancy UK retailers Harrods and Selfridges in a recent taste test.

They were also judged tastier than the traditional mince pies available at grocer to the queen, Fortum and Mason, despite the royal pies being about five times the price.

If a glass of warming mulled wine is your preferred aperitif, then look no further than Tesco. The retail giant's Mulled Wine (€6.99) is a zesty, spicy winter warmer that scooped first prize in the recent 2013 Good Housekeeping Guide's annual Christmas taste test.

In many homes across Ireland, a traditional starter to the Christmas dinner is smoked salmon and wheaten bread. Both Lidl and Aldi have proved themselves to be kings of fishy fare. At the 2013 Great Taste Awards, hailed as the Oscars of the food world, where thousands of products across the market are rigorously tested, Lidl's Irish Organic Smoked Salmon (€2.99) netted an impressive two gold stars, while Aldi's Specially Selected Irish Organic Smoked Salmon (€2.99) also hooked a coveted gold star.

At the same epic taste test, organised by the Guild of Fine Food, Lidl's delicious Square Wheaten loaf (€0.95) was also judged to be gold-star standard. For the main event, the pros at the Good Housekeeping blind test scored Aldi's turkey (3-5kg) highly, placing the budget bird in second place and hailing it as "an impressive centrepiece". The turkey tested was a British bird but Aldi's Irish equivalent product is an Irish Bronze Turkey (€39.99 and 4-4.99kg) and from a 100pc Bord Bia-approved farm.

Cranberry sauce is hardly a big-ticket item but why spend more when you don't have to? According to those lip-smacking tasters at the Good Housekeeping Institute, one of the top jars on the market is Tesco Finest Cranberry Sauce (€2.99). The tastebud-tickling turkey accompaniment was declared to have a "glossy, rich appearance with a good, sweet, tart balance" and ranked higher than a €3.61 sauce from plush brand Roots & Wings.

Of course, the grand finale to any festive feast has to be a sumptuous Christmas pudding.

Once again, discount chain Aldi proves that cut-price doesn't mean cutting back on flavour. The Aldi Christmas pudding (€6.99) took home a gold star at last year's Great Taste Awards while the Specially Selected Luxury Champagne Pudding (€12.99) scored 77 out of 100 in the 2013 Good Housekeeping taste test, and even comes with edible gold dust.

Irish Independent

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