Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cheerio, Matey!

My earliest exposure to it was innocent enough.   I was young. An adult offered me some with sugar-coated words. "Try it. You'll like it." And it was free! Who wouldn't pop the proffered goody into their mouth? It was a little bland at first, no "nose" to speak of, but it had a pleasant chewiness. Even better, it became sweeter the longer it remained on my tongue. You know the rest: no sooner had I swallowed it down then my eager fist reached out for more. I've been using the stuff ever since. You probably know it by its street name: Cheerios.

Hi. My name is Bill and I love cold cereal.   I didn't know Cheerios was a gateway cereal. More than 70% of adults who eat cold cereal started with Cheerios. This is not something the folks at General Mills will talk about (especially after their recent run in with the FDA who wanted to declare Cheerios an "unapproved new drug" because of its health claims.) In hindsight, my path to ever more types of cereal was entirely predictable. From Cheerios, I turned to harder stuff, like Grape Nuts, and to those with hypnotically alluring names (Quisp, Chocolate Chip Cookie Crunch, Bananellos), a path made smoother by the many 'friends" who ushered me in, personalities so familiar you know them by just their first name: Cap'n, Tony, or Crackle (the middle child, just like me!)

My early infatuation blossomed through the years. I've tried them all. There are so many that I regard cereal like a biological taxonomy. Under the Phylum, "Food", I subdivide the supermarket aisle into Families based on a cereal's construction: Flake, Puffed, Crunch (Hollow and Solid), Shredded. Their Genus is their particular building blocks, a cereal's DNA as it were: Wheat v Oat v Rice v Corn v Bran. There's a type I call Novelty because I'm really unsure just what they are made of. French Toast or S'Mores, anyone?

They become Species from their diverse additives: nuts, fruit, marshmallow, chocolate, vanilla, maple etc. Finally, the peculiar experience from eating each parses them into individual Breeds: Milk Absorbent vs. Floater? Chewy vs. Sticky? Sugared vs. Well,-Not-Quite-As-Much-Sugar? Sorry, but the confines of this article prohibit exhibiting the full cold cereal pyramid.

Much as I enjoy contemplating cereal, let's face it, it's all about eating the stuff. I like to mix. The dozen varieties that rotate in my cabinet always contain a cross-section of Breeds. No bowl ever has less than five components and how they are layered can make all the difference. Fiber, crunch, bran, flake, novelty works better than bran, novelty, crunch, fiber, flake. Trust me. Flakes on top can splatter the milk. Putting chocolate on the bottom is a dud because it just lays there, aloof and inert. Always, a soupcon of Novelty on top is the butter on the steak; it makes the eating enchanting.

 Keep in the mind, the right mix also depends on when you're eating. Late at night I stress Puffed and Hollows. They take up space in the bowl without adding density.

Here are some cold Cereals I'd like or expect to see in the near future:

  • Bourbon flavored, with the pieces die-cut to look like NY Taxis
  • Bacon Bits sounds awful, but so does steamed foie gras and prairie oysters
  • Really really cold cereal, kept in the freezer, packed and eaten in cups
  • Flavor changing cereal, like some chewing gum
  • Chewing gum cereal
  • Pre-Milked cereal. Milk is embedded yet the cereal is dry to the touch. Great for travelers.

Will any of the above hook the next generation of children? Don't know. But for sure, I want some of them to keep at it so they can tell me why I used to love Trix and hate Froot Loops, but feel the opposite now. What changed: the cereal or me?

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