We used to be amazed at everything. And then life happens and we become more jaded. Wonders cease, cynicism settles like a fog. So what I’m about to tell you is truth, not hyperbole in service of a false premise: Snacks continue to strike me with awe like no other medium. A Magritte painting or Chopin mazurka don’t stop me in my tracks. But encountering Jamon Iberico and caviar-flavored potato chips fills me with a child-like joy I can’t articulate in words.
Ask my wife: I audibly gasped when I saw these at a shop over the weekend. Of course, I discovered these very expensive potato chips in Yountville, the Napa Valleyist of Napa Valley towns.
As we’ve seen with Lay’s recent “Do Us A Flavor” promotion, when it comes to left field flavors, the deliciousness is secondary to how close it tastes to the food the chip tries to replicate. With the Snackgold’s Iberico ham ($7.75 a bag at this particular store), it nails that cured meat taste rather admirably. It’s unmistakably ham-flavored with all the garlicky saltiness associated, but rounded off with notions of paprika that gives the chips its Spanish edge. These are thick and huge chip slices, some verging on coaster-width, and fried in sunflower oil to an excellent crunch and finished with Mediterranean sea salt. The one thing missing, though, is the most coveted part of Iberico ham—its streak of nutty pork fat. Iberico ham is a luscious experience, with pork fat that dissolves at room temperature and coats the tongue. Here, that velvety fat is replaced with a crispy crunch, so you’re only achieving 80 percent of the Iberico potential.
With Torres Selecta’s caviar potato chips ($4.50 in Yountville), its caviar-ness is harder to detect. Some who sampled this thought the flavor to be overly fishy; I happen to love Japanese seaweed-flavored potato chips and thought these were in that ballpark. That umami flavor hits you in the aftertaste—it’s rich and savory, vaguely reminiscent of truffles and eggs (part of the ingredients include dehydrated caviar). The best thing about these chips is how fantastic they’re fried: thin-cut, also cooked in sunflower oil, with the appealing, residual oiliness of freshly fried chips.
These are not the type of chips you mindlessly shovel into your maw. It’s the type of potato chip you buy for its sheer novelty, then marvel at how closely or not it translates the flavor into snack form. I won’t likely buy these again, but they satiated my curiosity and tickled my brain, and you really can’t put a price tag on that.