It might not be a Southern party at all if there are no cheese straws. However, if you serve cheese straws with a nice libation, the party might qualify as a feast.
Cheese straws are those glorious, addictive, zesty baked crisps made from stiff dough that’s full of cheese, butter, and a pinch of cayenne. They are similar to crackers and savory shortbread, yet occupy a singular role of superiority. In his book Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Southern food expert Bill Neal wrote “Cheese straws are made by every good cook throughout the Southern states. They are a staple of the cocktail table, which Southerners, unlike other serious imbibers, pay special attention to, and they are superb morsel to nibble upon with bourbon and sherry.”
The term cheese “straws” is often used generically, even when the dough is not cut or extruded into strips, sticks, or magic wands, but instead into rounds, buttons, or wafers. However, some cooks call them cheese crisps, wafers, or even biscuits in a nod to their British ancestors. A few culinary historians trace the lineage of cheese straws back to England, yet others swear they originated in the South as a way to preserve cheese that wouldn’t keep in the heat. No matter where or when the first pan of cheese straws emerged from the oven, Southerners quickly became enamored and the recipe spread like wild fire across the region.
Cheese straws are equally likely to be homemade, store-bought, or made at home and then sold in stores. We buy them in tins in the chicest gifts shops, and also in baggies next to the cash register at mom-and-pop filling stations.
We serve them on engraved silver trays, but also carry around handfuls in crumpled paper napkins.
Unlike other legendary Southern baked goods, such as buttermilk biscuits and yeast rolls, it’s easy for bakers of any skill level to create perfect cheese straws on the first try.
Cheese straws meet us where we are.