We tried eating Burger King's entire Cheddar Collection in one sitting
If you were to separate each month of the year into its key annual events (June = Wimbledon, October = Halloween, etc) then November will always be associated with the rollout of Christmas specials.
Supermarkets have their turkey feast sandwiches, hipster burger joints add some cranberry or Camembert to their usual fare, and Starbucks decide an eggnog latte is a good idea.
Hell, even Nando's got involved this year. After all, is it really Christmas if you don't start plugging it five-to-six weeks before it actually happens?
Burger King have done things differently, though. They know that, while the big day is all about turkey and pigs in blankets, it's really just a warm-up for the main event.
What's that, you may ask? Cheese. So much cheese. More cheese than anyone really needs, if we're being honest, but we can't leave it there uneaten. That would just be wasteful.
Their festive menu is the 'Cheddar Collection' - three burgers and a side. And, in the name of Christmas excess, I tried to polish them all off in one sitting.
Burger 1: The Cheddar Whopper
If you've been to Burger King and you're not a vegetarian, you've probably tried the regular Whopper. It's their centrepiece, staring down at you from the display like King Bob in Recess. It dares you to order something else. The Bacon Double Cheese? The Rodeo? Some chicken? Fine, the Whopper won't judge you. It's a free country. But it's stealing a glance here and there, waiting for that moment of weakness where you cave and just accept the inevitable.
It's got all the basics you need from a burger. A solid ratio of meat to not-meat, a variety of textures - the whole shebang. But ask 10 people what they'd change about the Whopper and at least nine of them would say the same thing.
That's right, pickles. Pickles are the devil. Blight of bagels. Ruiner of Reubens. And they sneak up on you when you least expect it. Enjoying a fish finger sandwich? Bam! Pickle. Right in the second bite.
Well, we've got some good news for you. The Cheddar Whopper is a pickle-free zone. And not only that, but they've replaced pickles with cheese, and then more cheese. And then a bit of extra cheese that's injected into the fucking bun.
Wait, back up a second. I've left out the best bit. Instead of pickles between bread and beef, there's a four-cheese patty. Four cheeses is the best amount of cheeses. It's the number that Italians put on the quattro formaggi pizzas you see on every menu, and those fuckers invented pizza so you know they've thought long and hard about this.
Four cheeses. In a breadcrumbed, deep-fried patty. On top of a beef patty. Inside a cheddar-infused bun. This is a good day.
Burger 2: The Cheddar Tendercrisp Chicken
Beef and cheese are natural bedfellows. Roast beef and stilton is a pairing for the ages, as is salt beef and Swiss. But chicken and cheese? They've thrown an early curveball out there – it's easy to see why they eased us in with the Cheddar Whopper. Sometimes you need the safe option first, just to get people on side.
If you were playing a game of word association, it'd go a little like this:
Cheddar Whopper? Cheesy
Cheddar Chicken Tendercrisp? Fried
Now, that's no bad thing. It's on US state fair-levels of fried-and-breaded, with the four-cheese patty oozing out from between the fried chicken breast and the lettuce above. It's a hell of a lot of things, but tender and crisp are right up there. The marketing person who named this one should get a raise, maybe even a promotion.
You're probably wondering something at this stage. “Tom,” I hear you ask, “Does this mean you're most of the way through your second four-cheese patty in about 12 minutes? Are they as big as the meat patties?” To which I say the following:
One. Yes, yes I am.
Two. That's a pretty good time calculation. Are you watching me right now?
Three. Probably bigger than the beef but smaller than the chicken. Wait, is an actual chicken breast the same as a patty? What does the dictionary say on this one?
I should probably mention at this stage that I was invited to the tasting by Burger King, meaning (a) the food is free and (b) each burger is made-to-order, one by one, so I've not left burgers number two and three on the side while eating number one. The food's at the ideal temperature and consistency, and let me tell you, that crispy chicken topped with crispy cheese combo is quite something.
I've been told that the third burger doesn't have the four-cheese patty, which is probably good news for my arteries, but wait...
Side: Cheddar Nacho Bites
They've clearly seen me struggling and taken pity, deciding that – while the cheese is going to my head – the problem is not the gooey deep-fried goodness itself, but rather the portion size. Wouldn't it be easier for me to eat more cheese, just in smaller, more manageable portions.
The answer, dear reader, is yes. Did they trick me? Maybe. Did I eat the portion of six (maybe seven, counting wasn't a major priority at this stage) bites? Eventually, after refilling my strawberry lemonade (don't judge me), yes.
Burger King may be compared unfavourably to rival chains in some departments – and that's still a matter of fierce debate – but they're leading the way when it comes to deep-fried, breaded cheese. This one was always going to be a winner, even if it left me in need of a nap (though that was probably more of a cumulative thing).
Burger 3: Smokey BBQ Angus
No four-cheese patty? Hmm... loose connection. Must be the constant sitting and snacking.
The third burger has what scientists might call a 'normal' amount of cheese. But is now really the time or place for normal amounts of anything? Frankly, I'm not sure at this stage. I'm laughing at cheese puns in my head which I'm not sure are funny, I'm not sure are puns and I'm not sure involve actual cheeses. If someone mentioned Halloumi to me right now I'd probably bang my fist against the table in delirium. Literally just the word would do that. The cheese is winning, but I can still salvage this.
I take a bite. Shit, this is... great. An actual thick, meaty burger with crispy onions, bbq sauce and – get this – cheese. By fast food standards this is almost gourmet.
Another bite. Another sip of strawberry lemonade (seriously, stop it). Then I sink the last of the nacho bites, which I'd been saving in case my body couldn't adjust to a burger *without* deep-fried cheese in it. Back to the Angus burger and... nope, I can't do it.
I stare down at the remnants. The finish line is in sight, but at what cost? I turn towards the half-eaten burger, then away from it again. I do this about four times, wordlessly. The rest of the diners seem unbothered, shrugging and returning to their conversations. They've seen a man attempt to conquer his cheese Everest and fail, but they know the challenge has claimed many victims before. Sometimes by giving up to fight another day, you've won in your own way. At least that's what I tell myself.
On the plus side, it's 1:30 in the afternoon and I don't need to eat anything else for the rest of the day. Is it sustainable? No. Was it a good idea? Also no. Have I learned anything? Not even close.
The three Cheddar Collection burgers are each available for £4.49 or £6.99 as part of a meal. The nacho bites are £1.99 for four or £2.89 for six. All are available from November 16.
Photos: Tom Victor