Highlander Crisps. An Italian Take On A Taste Of Scotland ?

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 ?

 Caledonian Tomato crisps

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…



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  1. PK says:

    I have to disagree. As a crisp fanatic I was curious about these on holiday in Sardinia last month and was seriously impressed. They taste delicious!

    • villasfor2 says:

      If you’re a crisp guru, I won’t challenge your opinion, but personally, I find Italian crisps a little thin, pale and flavourless. But that said, if you come across a bag of the San Carlos-branded ‘1936 Original”, they are *seriously* good !

  2. CJA says:

    I think you have things back to front here. “Highlander” was a range established by the Scottish company Forth Valley Foods in 1987, following the closure of the Golden Wonder factory in West Lothian that same year. The factory was bought out and reopened, but perennial funding difficulties led to the firm being sold to the Italian conglomerate Unichips SPa (a.k.a San Carlo) in 1991. This is why Highlander crisps are now sold in Italy – nothing to do with being ‘new’, but rather an example of globalisation in action.

    Having encountered the brand in both Italy and Scotland (they have never been on sale anywhere else in the UK), I can tell you there are important differences in the range of flavours on display in each country. Caledonian Tomato and Sea Salt might be common to both, but it is unlikely that Bacon & Brown Sauce flavour is going to be marketed to discerning Mediterranean consumers any time soon. A couple of years back a special ‘Scottish variety’ selection was introduced (in Scotland only) for a short time: flavours included Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper and Chilli & Raspberry (which sounds godawful, but they actually worked).

    As it happens, the Scottish factory was closed in 2013, with all production transferred to Italy. This is why you rarely find Highlander crisps in Scotland any more…

    • villasfor2 says:

      Thanks for the crisp insights. I’ve only actually seen the Caledonian Tomato on sale round here. (Might’ve tried the Haggis had I come across it. Possibly not Chilli and Raspberry. Actually no…make that definitely not…)

      I’m happy to admit that when it comes to crisps and other fried, salted snacks to go with beer, my tastes clearly don’t coincide with the market for whom San Carlo very successfully cater. But that said, their ‘1936’ crisps genuinely are really good. (And had a great TV campaign to launch them !)

  3. CJA says:

    I should say as well – I only wanted to set the record straight, not come across as a know-it-all. I happen to agree with the main thrust of your argument – Italian crisps (or soft drinks, for that matter) aren’t great.

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