Published: 06:00, 16 December 2019
In a few short weeks we will most likely all be sick and tired of the mere sight of a mince pie.
That first bite of the season, though, is one to cherish - it delivers a memory jog which only smell and taste can ever achieve.
But, for many of us, by the time you've wolfed your way through a packet you had intended to share, the novelty has worn off and as you fold up the little silver cup it sat in into a sharp-edged triangle, you don't want to see another one, nor ponder how many calories you've just consumed.
Or, just perhaps, it's because you've not eaten the best of breed.
So as you prepare to invite guests over to celebrate the festivities, in an effort to save you the bother, and in the name of consumer research, we've not only put some of the most popular mince pie brands through their paces, but also a range of other festive snacks too.
We've taste-tested crisps and washed it all down with some beers from local breweries.
It's a tough job, but someone had to do it.
One mince pie, you may think is much like any other. And you may be on to something... but what about a vegan one?
And before you make the "have they taken the mince out" gag, let's see how it compares to some of the supermarkets' finest...
I'm banking on Mr Kipling being King Kipling here... but let's see shall we.
They are always essential if you have folk round and the supermarkets are not slow in trying to flog them to you the minute you walk into their stores. So with napkin tucked in, here we go:
Oggs Luxury Handmade
Now these were something of the wildcard in this test. Vegan-friendly, courtesy of lacking the egg, as with so many plant-based foods these days the bid to compensate means flavours are elevated and while smaller than their rivals (and you only get four to a pack) they are comfortable victors. Available through Sainsbury's, a word of advice: These little chaps may be wasted in a party - you may want to settle down with a glass of something warming and relish them. Plus they actually look home-made. Lovely.
Tesco Finest: All Butter Mince Pies with Courvoisier VS Cognac
Densely packed little fellas with the cognac subtly adding some punch against a back drop of some rather pleasing all-butter pastry. They suffer a little from the perennial problem of crumbling away mid-pie so don't lose that little foil tray as you'll need it. However, they run our winner a close second.
Lidl Deluxe All-Butter
If you like a bit of oomph in your mince pie pastry then allow me to introduce you to Lidl's effort. The pastry is the star here but, the issue is it rather drowns out the taste of the filling, which is something of a shame. Also fell apart on the first mouthful. Not a problem as such, but no-one wants half a mince pie down their Christmas jumper within minutes of arriving do they?
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference: All Butter infused with Brandy
Little bit of a let down this one. Holds its form well and plenty of filling, but just a little on the mundane side and lacking the punch of some of its competitors. You'll not have folk handing them back in disgust, don't get me wrong, but when you're after the best, I fear this isn't it.
Mr Kipling's Deep Filled Mince Pies
There's a lot to be said for keeping it simple, and the esteemed Mr Kipling is something of a dab hand at this cake business. Crumbly, no alcoholic flourishes, and a decent mince pie. But not, you may be surprised to learn, today's winner.
I have always been very much of the opinion that there are no more than 10 different crisp flavours which are simply reworked by jazzing up their descriptions.
But I cannot help but be intrigued by our wild card entry in this category - brussel sprouts. And not just an estimation... but actual air-dried sprouts.
Now, putting a brussel sprout flavour snack into a taste test, for many, would simply allow the bottom place to be automatically filled. But, in all honesty, I love a sprout... so I've my fingers crossed here...
Tesco's Christmas Trimmings Vegetable Crisps
You can't deny flavour with a veggie crisp as you are eating the very thing itself, thus grabbing a little mix means you are getting all the key ingredients of your main festive spread bar the turkey or nut roast - if, indeed, that is what you want to be reminded of.
The consequence is every crisp conjures up a little something different and, for variety in every mouthful, is our winner.
Nim's Brussels Vegetable Crisps
Now this if very much something for the sprout connoisseur, but worth trying as they're made in Sittingbourne. Once you've got over the fact it initially tastes like you're putting a pile of dust in your mouth, these air-dried sprouts (you very much get what you pay for here) are surprisingly good. Granted, you're not going to want to stuff a lot of them - and you may consider them tasting a tad like a leftover sprout that's been left in the fridge too long, but if you're looking at serving up a snack with a difference these could be for you. It will certainly spark conversation. Just expect to have some left by the end of the night, unless the sprout fans are in town.
Sainsbury's Roast Turkey & Herb Stuffing Crisps
Think old school 'roast chicken' crisps and you can imagine what these are like. Disappointingly familiar at first, and arguably not initially conjuring up their description, they end up becoming highly moreish. Let's call them the party pleasers. These will go and go quickly.
Now, in an ideal world, we would be supping on a range of plum pudding infused ales all brewed from the county's finest brewers. But, trying to find them is no easy task... and, more to the point, do many of us actually seek them out? No, what we want to know is what beers we can relatively easily lay our hands on and how tasty they are.
Given its dominance, awarding the top prize to a Shepherd Neame beer seems a bit too predictable, but Whitstable Bay is a real treat. Granted, it's probably best supped as the sun sinks on a summer's day, but if you don't need a little sunshine during the festive period when do you? This organic ale slips down with a refreshing taste and a lightness of touch which makes it an all-too worthy winner.
There's been a lot of noise around the Curious brand courtesy of its brewery in Ashford going live this year and their premium lager, fermented with Champagne yeast is light, tasty and very drinkable. This was challenging for the top spot and if lager is more your bag, then this will be a winner.
What could be better for the volatile nature of a festive season spent in the close proximity to family than a beer named after a sunken US munitions ship which could, at any given moment, explode and wipe out parts of Sheerness? It seemed appropriate... and it certainly packs a pungent punch. Produced from American hops (see what they did there) and from the brewery in St Nicholas-at-Wade, this bitter will grow on you.
A smooth Kentish best bitter which goes down very nicely and will delight anyone with a penchant for a decent ale. Deliciously hoppy, and not quite as in-your-face as the Wantsum effort, this is from the Gadds brewery in Ramsgate and will leave your guests with a smile on their face. You can ask for no more.