July 26, 2013
French potato chips are surprising -- goat cheese, anyone?

potatochips.JPGBee photograph by Randy Pench

A couple of lunch pals and I spent two hours inside the Cost Plus World Market on Howe Avenue earlier this month, and I wrote a "Counter Culture" column about our visit (July 12 Ticket section).

"We went (there) to discover some of its seasonal food items that could complement a backyard barbecue or picnic in the park," the column said.

Shortly after the column appeared, store manager Tom Hedtke phoned to say the market had just received a batch of uniquely flavored potato chips from France. "Too bad they weren't in stock when you wrote the story," he said.

In the interest of discovery, we returned and picked up five bags of the chips ($2.49 each) and held an informal taste test. The comments are below.

The American potato chip market bulges with flavored product - mesquite, lemon, tomato and bacon, sour cream and onion, sea salt and vinegar, ranch dressing, barbecue, dill pickle, cheddar...

Apparently, so does the French market. In order of flavor preference, our tasters ranked the French Bret's brand chips this way: Chevre & Piment d'Espelette (goat cheese and espelette pepper); Ail & Romarin (roasted garlic and rosemary); Petits Oignons (French onion); Indian Curry (what's the French word for "curry"?); and Carbonara (carbonara - same spelling in French and English, evidently).

A note: Tasters were confused by the Carbonara-flavored chips. Spaghetti alla carbonara is a Roman dish involving pasta, raw egg, bacon or pancetta, Parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper and salt. The Carbonara potato chip bag shows some of the ingredients for the dish, but the taste is solely that of cheese.

I wish I could say more about the product, but all the print on the bags is in French, as it is on the website, Cost Plus World Market is at 1821 Howe Ave., Sacramento; (916) 929-0220,

As for the tasting notes, they had one thing in common: "Not too salty."

Goat cheese and pepper: "My favorite. I would buy them."
"Hefty crunch and very satisfying texture."
"Lots of cheese, but little spice."

Garlic and rosemary: "Mild, slightly sweet, good balance."
"Yum! Makes me want to make my own rosemary potatoes at home."
"Liked the rosemary. I would buy these."

Onion: "You can't go wrong with onion."
"Too subtle. Could use more onion flavor."
"Right balance of onion."

Curry: "Very different and pleasant."
"Curry seems an odd flavor to marry with the crunch of a potato chip. Doesn't work for me."
"Weird...tastes artificial."

Carbonara: "Very cheesy, but would never guess carbonara."
"There's carbonara on these? Where?"

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