Chips have been an American snack time staple since the 1920s, when North Carolina businessman Herman Lay motored to grocers all over the South selling his potato crisps (they later became the country’s first mass-marketed brand). In recent years the number of convenience-store chip flavors has exploded. Lay’s has tried Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese and Wasabi Ginger, for instance, as part of its “Do Us a Flavor” contest over the past four years.
These days, potato chips make up a $26 billion global market that’s only growing, perhaps thanks to their versatility. Potato slices can be deep-fried, baked, or kettle-cooked; once they’re crunchy, they become a trustworthy flavor carrier for salt, herbs, spices from any culture, and, yes, cheese.
Curd lovers often favor the cracker, but truthfully, the humble potato chip can offer a cheese delivery vehicle that’s simultaneously richer and more playful. House-made varieties have been turning up on even the toniest restaurant menus. “Potato chips feel like a throwback in a way, but they’ve gone from bar snack to something more elevated,” says Tracey MacRae, a former restaurateur who’s now campus executive chef for the University of Washington in Seattle.
Here are several ways to complement the crunch of chips with their ultimate match: savory, satiating cheese.
Unlike traditional factory-made chips, which are fried on a conveyor belt, kettle-cooked chips are—you guessed it—cooked in a kettle in small batches, resulting in a sturdier, crunchier chip. Crumble or grate cotija or Asiago on top of just-fried chips, and the result is “money,” MacRae says. “It’s got a heady taste. Just that combination is so romantic to me.”
Schuman Cheese Cello Hand Crafted Asiago + kettle-cooked chips
V&V Supremo Sierra Cotija + kettle-cooked chips
Adam Navidi, chef-owner of Oceans & Earth restaurant in Southern California, fries thinly sliced Idaho russets in grapeseed oil and tops them with dehydrated black olives, a shower of rustic grating cheese, and a drizzle of truffle oil. “Big, strong cheeses can overkill the potato chip,” Navidi says. Instead, opt for nuanced wedges with flaky, delicate textures. For an all-in-one bite, pick a truffle-laced pecorino.
Baked chips are a lighter option, but they also make fabulous hors d’oeuvres when topped with cheese. MacRae recommends a smoked blue cheese dip (see recipe below)—you can either dip chips directly into the curds or pipe the dip onto individual chips and garnish with chives. “It’s the crunch of the chip and then the smoothness and smokiness of the dairy…those things give you such a satisfying sensation,” she says.
Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue + baked chips
Salemville Smokehaus Blue + baked chips
Blue Cheese Dip: Whisk together 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise, 1⁄4 cup sour cream, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, 1 minced garlic clove, and a dash of Worcestershire. Stir in 1⁄2 cup crumbled smoked blue cheese and some chopped parsley, scallions, salt, and pepper to taste.
Top Tips for Homemade Chips:
- Use similarly sized potatoes and create even slices to ensure proper cooking. A mandoline can help.
- Rinse, drain, and dry potato slices several times before frying—this removes starch, ensuring that the chips don’t darken too much.
- Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the potato slices during cooking
Photography by Yuliya von Eisenstein/shutterstock.com