I also met Phil, of Phil & Viv who created brown bag. Both were really nice people who know their crisps so I was in good company.
The interview they did with me will be up shortly on their blog:
Before the invitation, i'd heard very little about brown bag crisps - they have a limited amount of stockists, but among them are Harrods - which is a good representation of what brown bag are all about. They are crisps for the crisp connoisseur, I found that to be extremely clear when in conversation with Phil, who's passion in his quest for the best crisp flavours are extremely critical and well educated. I learnt many things about the crisp industry and what actually goes into making a good crisp, some of which I'll share in this brief write-up.
First up are Lightly Salted, and immediately i'm struck by the real difference in brown bag crisps. They are the only crisp in the UK to be cooked in Olive Oil (which is why they have the price tag that they do.) This really makes a difference, the flavour of the potato is brought out and it's a smooth, full & rich flavour that you don't get from crisps cooked in sunflower oil. The crisps are curly, but Phil tells me the reason behind this as it's not the usual shape of a brown bag crisp. This year has been very very bad for potato crops as Phil frustratingly explains, every crop is different and you have to adjust your method accordingly. Mostly - it's about perfecting the amount of time that the crisp is in the oil for, they have to experiment on every new crop to get the best out of the potato that they can. This year has been bad, so they've left them in oil for longer - meaning the crisps are a lot more curly.
As you may have noticed on my blog, the classics (Salt, Cheese & Onion, Salt & Vinegar) will never get over a 7/10. For fear of not spoiling that regime too much - Lightly Salted get a 7.5/10. The amount of salt is perfect, but it's the smooth flavour of the olive oil that makes this crisp as good as it is.
Well the underlying olive oil potato is still quite clear, the crunch of the crisp is almighty and satisfying and the seasonings are perfectly distributed. the vinegar has the right amount of sweet and sourness to it and the salt has a very full flavour to it. Which is a strange thing to say about salt but after noticing this, Phil tells me why there's a difference... Crisp makers in the UK get their salt from the sea and dry them in big oven in the UK. Brown bag have sourced their salt from the continent - meaning that it's not been oven dried - but dried in actual sunshine before it's brought over here. This makes a difference and is one of the reasons Sea Salt & Malt Vinegar has done so well. It's a great 7.5/10 from me.
Now here is the real shock for me. Cheese & Onion has been done and overdone. This classic is the most favourite walkers (and so favourite crisp) in the world. So how can it ever been bettered?
The word that hit me from the packet was 'Manchego' - one of the best cheeses you could ever come across. I don't think I can include these in the cheese & onion category. They are simply much much more than that.
The cheddar and onion is still there and good on its own, but the manchego shines through here and blows this flavour into one of my personal favourites.
A lot of crisp companies like to put their names to farms (e.g Piper's Lye Cross Cheddar & Onion).
Which Phil tells me, is something he will never do. He says that just like the potatoes, the cheese quality varies throughout the year. So he is constantly tasting the cheeses to make sure he is still getting the best flavour out of it. This is a great method that I implore.
9/10 for Mature Cheddar, Manchego & Onion
And it's another success. What's been oak smoked here is actually the sugar. Most crisps have sugar in them to even out the flavour, but none of them have played with it in such a way as this. The sweetness to these crisps are addictive, the chilli kick is powerful and full (which hits you after 5 seconds) but it's nicely set off by the sweetness that really makes these crisps work.
So brown bag give a massive big sign off from me, they tell me they have a smoked bacon flavour on its way using real bacon (Phil wouldn't have it any other way) which I look forward to. Let's hope they get a lot more stockists in the future. I will be spreading the brown bag crisps word for sure.