Yes, "Animal Crackers" is the title of a 1930 Marx Brothers comedy, but beyond that the cookies are a British import popularized here in 1902. That's when the National Biscuit Company made the classic Barnum's Animals, which quickly became a national icon. Nearly 40 different circus and zoo animals have filled the distinct Barnum's Animals packaging over the decades.
Which brings us to a new product sent to us from Petaluma-based Barbara's Bakery. Our tasters sampled two of the six available flavors - double chocolate and peanut butter "animal cookies ... made with organic grain" (www.barbarasbakery.com). They're $3.99 per 7-1/2-ounce bag, available at Safeway and Whole Foods stores.
We passed them around the room and asked our tasters to give their opinions. Here they are, beginning with my own:
Doesn't everybody love animal crackers? These are crunchy and light, with flavors more subtle than bold."
"If I had had a cow by my desk, I would have milked her for a glassful, chilled it and then enjoyed these tasty cookies. As it was, I washed them down with a diet ginger ale. Nevertheless, I loved these treats. Brings back memories of my kids eatin' animal crackers and me mooching a few. They get four 'growls' of approval from me."
"Usually I am put off by products labeled as 'organic,' 'all-natural' or otherwise touted as alternatives to something familiar. They tend to taste bland or artificial, or they often have a strange texture. But these tasted very good, and were crisp and light. I especially liked the double chocolate ones, with their rich, fudge-like flavor. A cold glass of milk would have made these a real treat."
"They taste just like animal crackers, what else can I say? I'd eat a box full if they were in front of me."
"These cookies are tasty, but not good enough to beat the original animal crackers. I liked the peanut butter better than the chocolate."
"Alas, these flavored animal crackers don't hold up to the originals, either in taste or texture. Animal crackers are famous for their distinct slightly sweet, slightly crunchy texture. These are overwhelmed by chocolate and peanut butter."
"Peanut butter packed a lot of flavor into such a thin cookie. Not bad."
"Flavor-wise, the chocolate's initial impression was a tad medicine-y, but finished off a bit more conventionally."