Italian food needs no bigging-up from me.
It’s one of the world’s truly great cuisines. But perhaps the stellar heights achieved by a perfect Spaghetti alla Carbonara; or Ossobucco; or Bistecca alla Fiorentina can begin to explain why, in a kind of strange inverse ratio, Italian junk food is…well…junk.
Take what we Brits refer to as Crisps. Or what the Yanks, in their never-ending state of terminal food confusion, call Potato Chips.
A decent Crisp, be it traditionally salted; cheese and onion; Bovril or Marmite; or, yes, even Prawn Cocktail flavour is a casually-accepted British birthright.
But not if you’re Italian. Because Italian crisps, it has to be said, are rubbish. Thin, puny and anaemic, with as much flavour as a damp sock.
And I think Italian crisp-makers actually realise this, because they’re making a brave bid to improve, by going back to the source of true crisp greatness, the British Isles.
Unfortunately, they’ve got it a bit wrong.
San Carlo, who are to Italian crisps what Fiat are to Italian cars, (ie variable quality and on sale everywhere), have introduced a new range bravely called…Highlander.
So far so good, as setting aside the hoary old Scottish food gags about Haggis; Deep-Fried Mars Bars and…er…deep-fried anything in fact, Scottish food can be incredibly fine: the world’s best salmon and game; Angus beef; and, yes, even Haggis.
So have San Carlo taken a bold step forward with Highlander Venison, Smoked Salmon, or Arbroath Smokie crisps ?
Not quite. There’s that old favourite Cheese and Onion; safe and steady Sea Salt; Roast Chicken and Lemon – hardly a flavour that screams Scotland, but never mind; and…Caledonian Tomato.
Sorry. Run that past me again. Caledonian Tomato ?
Yes. According to the pack, Caledonian Tomato is ‘Sapori di Scozia‘. A taste of Scotland.
So these crisps are made with fresh, ripe, juicy Scottish tomatoes from the sun-kissed hills, glens and mountains ?
Well, no. They’re made with tomato powder.
From Scotland ?
It doesn’t actually say.
Leaving aside the fact that Scotland is to tomato production what Italy is to the worldwide pineapple trade, making any foodstuff called Highlander Caledonian Tomato simply beyond parody, what’s truly and frighteningly alarming is that someone at San Carlo, decided this was a really killer brand-name.
And everybody said, “Yeah !”
What’s even crazier, they could even be right.
Because the idea that an Italian company was making a crisp called Highlander Caledonian Tomato would prove so irresistible to the Scottish sense of humour, that if San Carlo exported their entire annual production to Glasgow, they’d be an overnight sensation.
Equally so if Highlander Caledonian Tomato was a Muhammad Ali among crisps. The Greatest of All Time.
But even when tasted with a smile, because the name’s so bizarrely off-the-wall you really kind-of have to love it…
…and even when cut quite a bit of slack because, y’know, these are Italian crisps and Italian crisps are pretty dire…
…and even when trying your absolute hardest to think of a reason to buy another packet…
You just can’t.
Because the sad truth is that although Highlander Caledonian Tomato Crisps might yet turn out be a marketing masterstroke, they taste really, really, really, really…