To initiate the holiday weekend and summer picnics, a friend of mine threw a backyard cookout on Friday. This group of friends are all foodies, and everything was amped up. Burgers were fresh ground beef from a beloved local market, served with home made egg buns. There was eggless seitan curry egg salad for the vegans. There was jalapeno bacon potato salad. And there was a German quark cheese dip called Huttenkase mit schnitlauck. The cooler was filled with beers, sours and ciders from local craft breweries. Urban Artifact’s Pickle Beer floated in ice next to Rhinegheist’s Wowie, or Bubbles 2.0, as we like to call it.
One of our saltiest foodie friends admitted freely, not under duress – that he liked the new white cheese jalapeno Cheetos. He also admitted he had eaten squirrel and liked it. This is a guy who will walk out of a microbrewery if he’s served a Kolsch that tastes more like a nut brown ale, and scoffs at LaRosa’s pizza and its over-sweet sauce. And that’s what I like about humanity – the little unexpected idiosyncrasies that defy our known personas and make us human and a little bit wonky. No one could have predicted this confessional from our foodie friend. But it brought all of us cheese puff, Cheeto, and cheese curl lovers out of the closet to begin the Great Cheese Puff Debate.
So the discussion began. The first item for argument was what form is best to deliver a puffed, cheese flavored crunchy snack – a curl, a ball, or an irregular, stick, like the Cheeto. Full disclosure – I am in the cheeseball camp. I think the curl is too large and irregular and deposits more cheese globules on the inside surface of the teeth. And there’s something very unnatural to me in the crunch of a Cheeto. One friend is convinced that Utz makes the best cheeseball on the market today. And she likes that they come in a huge 35 oz. plastic tub. I stood my ground that the old Eagle Snacks made the best, crunchiest, yet greasiest cheese ball and I have stopped eating them since Eagle snacks left the industry. Another friend contended that Planter’s had the best cheeseballs, but when they brought them back they weren’t as crunchy and greasy as the originals, so not the original recipe.
There were side conversations about whether it was best to wait till the end of your gorge to lick the Dayglo orange dust off your fingers, or continuously lick during your munchfest. There was also a challenge to try the new Grippos cheese nibs – so a cheese puff roundup is in order. By the way I love that Grippos uses the term ‘nibs’ to name their puffed cheese snack – it’s very market distinguishing.
We didn’t care that these snacks are heat-extruded, corn based dough with a high glycemic index, way over-salted for our middle-aged body chemistries, and employ unnatural neon orange artificial coloring that has been used to describe our current president. And, although there was no consensus on whose puff, curl, ball or stick was the best – we could all agree that the Cheese puff is a truly American snack that has stood the test of time, and one of which we are proud to enjoy. Maybe there should be a red-white-and-blue cheese puff for July 4th.