Have you ever had real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese?
I’m not talking about the stuff you see on the grocery store shelves – or even the domestically labeled “parmesan” you see in the fancy swanky deli cheese section of your Walmart. I’m talking about those massive, aged rounds imported from Italy and encountered in the kind of swanky, dimly lit Italian restaurant your rich, possibly mob-involved Italian uncle takes your family to on special occasions.
If you haven’t experienced this “King” of cheeses (in which case, let me introduce you to my uncle Dave), then you’re missing out. True Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano is nutty and fruity, salty and astringent, and meaty. It’s the kind of cheese which makes you remember it as the best part of going to a restaurant, even after you’ve downed a week’s worth of calories in flatbread pizzas following its appearance on an appetizer plate.
Having recently tasted this epitome of aged dairy (and, I should add, gorged myself in flatbread pizzas) I was looking forward to getting my fill of classic Italian flavors in the convenience of a bag and a fraction of the fat. Forty percent less fat, to be precise, which is exactly how much fat Lay’s has slashed from their new Kettle Cooked Sun-Dried Tomato & Parmesan chips.
When judging the flavor of [INSERT CHEESE NAME HERE] chips, I like to consult the handy dandy statistical tool known as the bell curve. Given a normal chip (read: pretty much all chips excluding those green ones or chips that look like Jesus) one assumes the chip’s flavor is worthwhile if it’s more than one standard deviation from the norm, which in the case of any potato chip professing the flavor of cheese, is your standard Cheddar and Sour Cream. More than two standard deviations from Cheddar and Sour Cream? That’s for sure a winner. Three? There’s a chip worth eating an entire bag in one sitting.
They say the King of Cheese can stand on its own (or maybe I’m thinking of this song), and if that’s true, then Lay’s wasn’t exactly giving a vote of confidence to the namesake flavor by including Cheddar and Mozzarella Cheese before Parmesan on the ingredient list. Butter and Asiago come later, but the general aroma is that of cheese, salt, and that ubiquitous “chip” smell of maltodextrin and garlic. In other words; we’re starting conspicuously close to the center of that bell curve.
I was excited to see that the “Natural Sun Dried Tomato Type flavor” in the seasoning resembles the stuff that makes Cooler Ranch Doritos so awesome, but the Sun Dried Tomato flavor itself is muted and tough to put a finger on. Inconsistent at best, it comes off as not quite sweet enough or assertive. Last I checked, the flavor of the tomato is intensified through the drying process, yet I’m pretty sure this has less tomato flavor than those ketchup chips we reviewed.
All could be forgiven, mind you, if the Parmesan flavor approached anything near that of true Parmigiano-Reggiano. Unfortunately, I find it ambiguous underwhelming. It’s slightly creamy and a tad meaty, but the assertive and bold notes – not to mention that addictively fruity quality — aren’t there. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll find this tastes like those shelf-stable packs of Kraft “Parmesan,” but it’s more one note and salty than anything else. Which brings us around to the point of the bell curve, and how, even with four types of cheeses and the presence of natural sun dried tomato “type” flavor, these chips can’t break free of a single standard deviation away from the most ubiquitous of all chip flavors.
Still, for a 40 percent reduced fat chip, you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference in crunch level, although the slightly less than par greasiness of the cheese will be missed by those who enjoy licking their fingers (and not, I should add, by my keyboard.)
All things considered, it’s a decent chip if you have the obsessive tendency to find a way to shave a few grams of fat out of your day, or if you’re just looking for a gentle way to introduce your neighborhood’s resident sour cream and onion chip fan to something a bit more sophisticated. But those looking for a taste distinctly and unmistakably Italian taste are going to find these a little lackluster, more akin to those cakey packets of Kraft “parmesan” than to the “King of Cheese.”
(Nutrition facts – 1 ounce/about 16 chips – 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 135 milligrams of sodium, 410 milligrams of potassium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)
Item: Lay’s 40% Reduced Fat Kettle Cooked Sun-Dried Tomato & Parmesan
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 8 ounces
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Less calories and fat than regular chips without loss of crunch factor. Four types of cheeses. All natural. Sun dried tomato flavor is a nice change of pace. Actually having an application for those college statistics classes I suffered through. Keeping my computer clean.
Cons: Only 20 less calories and a few fat grams less than regular kettle chips. Four types of cheeses you probably won’t be able to detect. Parmesan is garden variety domestic stuff. Sun-dried tomato flavor could be more assertive. No grease to lick off my fingers.