Friday, May 24, 2013

All Things Southern: Cheese Straws!

Cheese straws! I've always liked them and thought of them as a delicacy. Even in Japan, where I grew up, my missionary neighbor from North Carolina, would have a tin of cheese straws as a special treat, shipped over from the U.S.

Recently, I went to Williams-Sonoma at The Streets of Southpoint (a.k.a. Southpoint Mall to most of us in Durham, North Carolina) and met someone who knows a lot more about cheese straws than I do. Ashley Sellars, who resides in the state's coastal town of Beaufort, actually makes cheese straws, using her mother's recipe.

So what is the origin of these thin cheddar cheesy delights that have a hint of spice? Well, first off, most would agree that cheese straws are Southern. (However, if you want to debate that, you are not alone; there's a website that has a whole lot of discussion, basically wondering if the origin of cheese straws involves the British.)

The story told in the South is that a thrifty cook mixed leftover biscuit dough with some cheese, formed it into pencil-shaped strips and baked these strips along with the biscuits. (More on this at The Nibble.) The new items were enjoyed as a snack instead of at meals. Soon the cheese straw was known throughout the U.S. Yes, it became very popular! The most basic recipe for the dough is made with grated cheddar cheese, flour, salt and baking powder, and cut with a pastry wheel into long, narrow strips, hence the form of "straws".

For many Southern hostesses, cheese straws are part of the appetizer tray. Served with coffee, hot tea, lemonade or iced tea on a breezy porch under a magnolia tree creates an ideal scene. Lately, the cheese straw has been served with drinks that have a bit more of a kick. In fact, cheese straws apparently go well with cocktails and are sophisticated enough for even the fanciest party. (They get invited out often!)

There are even a wide-range of varieties these days, some straws are shorter and robust, taking on the shape of a rectangle; others are twisted and made from puff pastry. Some are coin-sized.

Haven't tasted a cheese straw yet? Check out 350 Cheese Straws, Ashley Sellars' website. Tell her I sent ya!

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