America's fascination with celebrities goes beyond their exploits on the stage, screen, or field, leading more and more stars to cash in with products that bear their names. But are those offerings buzzworthy? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
A shiraz with golfer Greg Norman's name is excellent, for example, with rich fruit flavors, but a shiraz from a vineyard owned by Dave Matthews is just OK, with a slightly pungent off-note. Even the same name may have products that vary in quality. Martha Stewart's sheets rated Very Good; her laundry detergent was so bad in our tests last year that plain water cleaned about as well.
In our most recent tests of celebrity merchandise, we bypassed Justin Bieber nail polish and Jessica Simpson underwear to test products more likely to be on our readers' shopping lists: pasta sauces, salad dressings, and soups (alll available to subscribers).
The products are from chefs who cook on TV (Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, and Giada De Laurentiis, for example), from restaurants that achieved notice beyond their hometowns (Original Bookbinder's in Philadelphia, and Delmonico's and Rao's in New York City), and from Hollywood heavyweights (Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Newman, and Paul Sorvino). We also included brands linked to other notables: Muir Glen, named for John Muir, the naturalist and writer; and Pritikin, whose founder was an early promoter of diet and exercise. And we included The Silver Palate, a New York specialty-food store that inspired a series of cookbooks.
Although three of the 26 products were excellent and 10 were very good, half were only average, with some no better than cheaper mainstream brands such as Campbell's, Kraft, and Progresso.