The Cheese Straw Recipe That Won Over a Southern Transplant
Moving to Birmingham from San Francisco, I was quickly introduced to a myriad of foods previously unknown to me. The fried green tomato won over this tomato-hater. I memorably ate chess pie on the side of the road in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. Though I'm still personally not a fan, I gave pimiento cheese a try too. And then it was time to taste cheese straws.
When I first stumbled upon the Southern Living selection of cheese straw recipes, my first thought was that they barely resembled a straw. A more accurate moniker might have been a cheese stick or a cheese log. At least, that's how mine came out when I made this recipe for the first time. But I was keen to try this Southern staple that seemed to have a place at every social function. Now that I've made them, it's simple to see why the cheese straw is beloved. It's so easy. Six ingredients—which I reduced to four—and you have something better than even the best store-bought snack.
The only reason it took me so long to get around to making them was lack of sharp yellow cheddar cheese at my regular grocery store, Trader Joe's. I considered several times replacing yellow for white cheddar, but my gut told me this was blasphemy. I think it was right. Don't substitute.
In my typical, flippant fashion, I axed the spices—in this case paprika and ground red pepper—and stuck to the core pillars of salt, cheese, butter, and flour. The heat may have been a nice addition, but I let them go by the wayside as they weren't readily available in my spice cabinet at the time.
Mixing the dough, I was expecting something of a sugar cookie consistency, but I was surprised by something even thicker. It clung to my mixer's paddle for dear life, and for a moment I thought it might shimmy right up and out of the bowl. Thankfully, it didn't.
The instructions direct you to use a cookie press for shaping, but I had no cookie press and made do with a piping bag instead. I wouldn't call that a major mistake, but my hand was definitely sore for a few days afterwards. It was a success—just make sure you cut a fairly large hole in the bag, or there is absolutely zero chance you will squeeze even a drop of cheese straw dough through.
Because I didn't have a cookie press, this also meant my cheese logs, as they came out, were missing their trademark ridges. Thanks to the ingenuity of my roommate, we soon found a fork and some patient prodding did the same job.
The last hurdle to cheese straw goodness was baking them, and it was indeed a hurdle. How does one decide if something orange, which has brown undertones, is browned from baking? The first batch, though tasty, was the pale experiment. Each successive batch emboldened me to leave them in the oven just a little longer, until, well…it was too long. But if you're wondering how you'll know what "golden brown" means, don't worry. You'll know. Take it from me, who didn't know either. "Golden brown" is now an apparent and distinctive hue from yellow cheddar.