Snack Critic: Stain Your Fingers Orange With These Local Cheese PuffsFebruary 11, 2017
Within the realm of iconic snack species is the ever-flamboyant cheese puff. Typically made with corn and showered generously with cheese powder (which doesn’t contain a lot of actual cheese, but we love it anyway), cheese puffs deliver the best of both worlds: salty, tongue-piercing sharpness with a light, puffy crunch that keeps every bite addictive. You find several iterations in the US, among of the best-known of which is Cheetos Puffs. Today, we’re putting the spotlight on local versions that may not be carbon copies (or may not even be trying to copy), but—for the love of our neon-stained fingers—are worth recognizing in their own right.
BIG MUNCH PUFFS
This bright orange specimen has a shape and size similar to Cheetos Puffs. True to its name, each piece reveals a munchable puffiness that is airy, but has a distinct bite. They hint at the milkiness of Cheetos Puffs, but with the saltiness and tanginess turned down a notch that you can stuff more in your mouth at a time. The downside: these get stale way too easily—I’m talking within minutes of being exposed to air after opening the bag—all the more reason to wolf these down right away.
Color- and form-wise these also fit under the Cheetos Puffs-ilk—just misshapen in comparison, which only adds to their charm. Bite down and you find a crisp-crackly texture like Big Munch’s, just drier. You get the salty, somewhat milky flavor that defines processed cheese goodness. While it’s not as tangy as Cheetos puffs, there’s a hint of sweet to balance out the savory. The best part is the presence of a subtle meaty flavor at the finish, serving as the coda that brings all the individual notes together.
Leslie’s BAKED CHEEZY PUFFS
Slightly smaller than Big Munch and Cheezums but no less radically orange, these puffs are distinct for having an onion-y flavor beneath the cheese. The pungency can be off-putting—we could only handle a few pieces at a time—and we wish there were more tanginess for balance. Taken with a sweet bottle of pop on a lazy afternoon though, it does the job of providing the saltiness that satisfies a quick craving.
jack n’ jill CHiZ CURLS
This turquoise bag may be the most familiar to many, although visually it differs from the rest. Coming in smaller “curls”, their sunny shade that comes closer to yellow is a welcome change from the aggressively saturated hue found on the other contenders. The mellowness matches the texture, which is lighter and more delicate. No matter how huge a handful you cram in one go, it literally melts on the tongue—leaving behind its cheesy essence in the process. In spite of the wispy texture though, the flavor is in no way shortchanged: a punchy cheesiness that lacks tanginess or sweetness, but with a spot-on ratio of milkiness to saltiness.
La-la BAKED CHEESE PUFFS
Though supposedly cheese-flavored and properly neon in color, this bag could not be more misleading. Simply put: it’s so sweet, it could easily be mistaken for breakfast cereal. With nary a hint of salt or tang, or anything to assure its place as a savory snack, these puffs would best be given a DNA check, at least to be able to keep their name. But for what they are—even though we’re not sure what the shape is meant to resemble (Flowers? Fists? Touching butts?)—they’re addictive: light, puffy, with a tight, delicate crumb deep within.
Our lineup presents cheese puffs given different interpretations, varying in texture and ratios of sweet, salty, and tangy that altogether form a loose idea of “cheese”. If it’s been a while since you’ve torn into any of these bags, do it now. And if the finger stains bother you, you can always lick them off.