We’ll all go out to meet her when she comes
Comin’ Round The Mountain
Have you ever encountered a cheese straw that you didn’t admire? Seems like everyone has a great aunt or grandmother who dabbled with a singular recipe that invited raves. To top such a family treasure – the cheese straw has a pedigree.
Most food historians agree that some semblance of cheese, butter and flour has been around since ye ole family party pusher offered a tray of beverages. Evidence has it that the first published recipe, Cayenne Cheeses, appeared in The Book of Household Management, a manual printed in London in 1861.
Cheese straws are particularly appealing housed in a tin because they can await service, poised as a partner to the cocktail or employed as a delicious treat for the milk and cookie set.
Which reminds me of my own grandmother’s prideful production involving a newfangled cookie press, sighs and serious debate about the degree of spice required. In her case, plenty, to combat a heavy hand used to set up the complimentary highball.
At the time, such details were not important to me; I liked them nearly as much as her pecan pie and besides, they were enchanting pieces of real food that I could place on my dolls’ plates.
The thought of homemade cheese straws sprung out of a long winter’s nap this season while considering the granddaughter experience and then lamenting that I had never taken a version of cheese straws for my own.
After floating my brother in law Harbour Mounger’s keeper statement – “What to do, what to do,” I settled into review of a few weathered cookbooks and realized that the cheese straw, showing up in cookbooks shortly after the Civil War, is primarily a southern device whether they present in strips, rounds or ridge backs.
In the end, one recipe prevailed. The chosen approach honored my reverence for virtuous ingredients and was literally as southern as a copy of Garden and Gun magazine. I found too, that whatever the anointed cheese straw blueprint maybe, a portion of Gruyere cheese adds kick, a soft southern flour like White Lily (less gluten) is best and the thinner you roll them, the flakier.
Obsessed, I know, but then such behavior is forgivable when the object is for sharing. Today I whipped up another post holiday batch. Gingerly the lot will be packed under some wax paper inside a Grandma style tin. The gift will serve as good company while I make way for Chicago, the imminent birthplace of dearest granddaughter number two.
Her mother and sister will need reinforcements from the south for the days to come.
Devised by Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Virginia, this blue ribbon recipe takes time to prepare and for best flavor do so at least a day before serving. Freezes beautifully.
1 cup of all-purpose flour (White Lily is recommended)
½ stick unsalted butter, slightly softened
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound shredded sharp orange cheddar cheese
¼ pound shredded white cheese (equal parts Gruyere and parmigiano Reggiano)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 egg yolk
Optional for garnish:
2 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a food processor, add all the ingredients except rosemary and sea salt.
Pulse repeatedly until the dough becomes soft and starts to gather into a ball.
On a floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 11 inches wide by 8 inches tall; the dough should be ¼ inch thick.
Fold the dough in half (left side onto right side) and re-roll; continue this for several layers (this adds flakiness).
Finally, re-roll the dough to 11 inches wide and 8 inches tall.
With a spatula, carefully lift the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet with the longer 11 inch side at the top and bottom.
Square off all sides with a knife to create clean edges, and cut the dough into vertical strips, each a bit less than ½ inch wide.
Then cut each strip in half horizontally, creating approximately 40 cheese straws.
With a knife, gently move the straws to separate.
Sprinkle with chipped rosemary and sea salt.
Bake for 20 minutes or until just slightly golden.
Cool briefly, and then move to a rack until cooled.