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Transforming free samples into fine dining - Justin Boron

Tiny tastes of meats, cheeses, trail mixes, chips, and dips are the supreme indulgence of bulk shopping. The smaller-than-appetizer-sized portions are no doubt delicacies.

But that doesn't mean they are always eaten with restraint. This mass-produced, mid-shopping charcuterie often becomes a full course meal for some people.

I am one of them.

When I was a young kid, a trip to Costco or Sam's Club meant lunch. When my family first joined the warehouse clubs, I was awestruck by the array free food offered at every corner. Up until then, I had only witnessed picayune, grocery samples – typically not much more than a bag of chips thrown on a table with some cheese dip.

The Costco samples were a high step up, not only in the quality of food but in the style with which they were presented. Here, each sample stand had a Costco representative to explain the intricacies of what you were tasting. It was like a wine tasting venue, but for cheap snacks. I used to work the floor, picking up food from stand to stand indiscriminately.

I'm still pretty much a voracious sample eater today.

I patrol the aisles with eyes always peeled just as sharp for my next course as ever. But I do it with a little more style and grace, trying to treat it less like a smorgasbord and more like a fine dining experience.

Most of the time, the sample stands are strategically placed along the main drag of the grocery side of the warehouse.

Since usually I'm trying to make a meal out of the samples, I prefer to arrange the courses appropriately.

I start in the back by the deli. That's where you'll find sundry cheeses, crackers, and occasionally brie, all up for grabs. I limit myself though. No need to overdue it with the cheeses yet. I've got a lot more eating to do. And I also know I always can come back after the main courses.

Beyond the deli, there is the frozen food section. The aroma of sizzling meats or bubbling stews always cloaks this part of the store, and I spend a good bit of time there. It's always the area where the best items are being sampled and should be central part of the meal.

I top off the shopping trip at the front of the store, where free samples of brownies and cookies are usually found. Sometimes the store throws a curve though and puts out ice cream in the frozen foods section.

The most important thing about the meal is to remain tactful. It's not a buffet where you just shove food in your mouth. Listen to what the store representatives have to say. Maybe even take a box of what they're peddling and then set it down later somewhere else. It's important to keep up appearances because getting a bad reputation at these places could leave you without sample privileges for a long time. Costco is a club, and when I eat there, I allow myself the fear that any moment the head honchos can swoop down and snatch away my membership card.

Justin Boron is the government reporter for the News Daily. His column appears Monday. He can be reached at 770-478-5753 or jboron@news-daily.com