When packing a school lunch for a child between the ages of 3 and 14, there are a few criteria that each item inside the lunchbox should fulfill. First, the food must be accessible. If you send your kid off to school with a seaweed salad and a pair of chopsticks, expect to get a call from the principal complaining that your child has been terrorizing his/her classmates all day by pretending to be a swamp monster. Secondly, the food must be fun. Whoever said it’s wrong to play with your food must never have tried it, because if theres one thing that made me eat vegetables as a kid it was being able to dip them in purple or green ketchup (RIP). Lastly, the food must be tasty, but that one is sort of a given. Now while oftentimes it’s hard to incorporate nutrition into a lunch that meets all of these requirements, there is one tasty snack that has satisfied parents and kids alike for decades: string cheese.
That’s right everyone, this week on Supermarket Showdown we took a trip down memory lane and had ourselves a little string cheese taste test. I must say, it was a little strange trying to be sophisticated with my tastings when all I wanted to do was pull an entire stick of cheese apart, make it into a wig for my hand, and have it perform a lip sync as musician Taylor Swiss (runner-up names were Fontina Turner, Brieoncé, and Christina Agruyèrela). Nonetheless, I fought against my instincts and conducted the taste test with absolute maturity, only stopping once to see which cheese bounced higher. For this week, the four contenders were Polly-O, Sargento, Cracker Barrel, and Galbani/Sorrento Stringsters. Cheeses were judged on taste, price, presentation, and accuracy, before being given a final grade. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
It only seemed right to start the tasting off with the brand whose mascot is a cartoon chicken wearing a chef’s hat, because that’s exactly in the spirit of what string cheese is all about. I had heard of Polly-O before but had never had the chance to taste it, so needless to say I was excited. The plastic wrapper peeled away just as easily as the string cheese itself, which let me tell you is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world, comparable only to peeling glue off of your fingers. The presentation was as to be expected: strangely smooth and shiny with wrinkles at the end from where the machine portioned the cheeses. However, Polly-O must not be a warm weather bird, as the cheese was strangely sweaty and coated my hand in a milky liquid that wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. The texture could only be described as squidgy, where I felt like the cheese was cleaning my teeth as I chewed it. There was a pleasant amount of salt and a definite dairy flavor, although I felt as though the cheese lacked a bit of the subtleties that traditional mozzarella has. Overall, I wasn’t mad at Polly-O. She can have a cracker if she wants.
Next up, it was time to try a cheese stick from the self-proclaimed company of “cheese people.” If you’re anything like me, you can’t stand commercials on the air right now besides the Progressive ads of Flo interacting with her family. Sargento’s commercials are obnoxious to me in the way that they force-feed you the idea that their cheese is “real,” which only makes me paranoid about why they feel the need to be so convincing. What are you trying to hide, Sargento? Therefore, going into this tasting I was ready to rip them apart. Much to my dismay, this cheese was good. And I mean really good. First off—and I understand this is going to sound a bit oxymoronic—but the way that this string cheese peeled was just so natural. The pieces were nice and large with scraggly ends hanging off the sides, and the glossy sweat from the Polly-O stick was nowhere to be seen. The first bite of the cheese stick wasn’t fantastic, but as you have more and more (which you can, since all of these cheese sticks are under 100 calories), the flavor builds into a wonderfully deep crescendo with a milky depth highlighted by a slight brightness and acidity. This one was good y’all, so good that the pack of twelve has already disappeared from the culture communal fridge after one day.
Looking for redemption this week was Cracker Barrel, our third place finisher in the sharp cheddar taste test from last week. Now, this one was a bit strange, as Cracker Barrel doesn’t actually offer a string cheese product. Instead, they have individually wrapped Cheddar Cheese Sticks, which for the purpose of our taste test we decided to allow. Out of fairness to the people at Cracker Barrel, we didn’t judge their cheese sticks in comparison to the other three but instead judged it as a product in general. Now, I really don’t want to start to come across as anti-Cracker Barrel, but once again I have to say I was disappointed. First off, these cheese sticks were slimy. I mean, it was maybe 75 degrees in our offices, but these little rectangles were sweating like they were guilty of murder and on the stand. I do have to say, though, that the overall taste was leagues better than their blocked sharp cheddar from last week, being as this one actually tasted like it was made with dairy rather than mosquito repellent. The texture, however, was really offputting, stuck somewhere between a tootsie roll and a banana, and would cling to your tongue like a child who doesn’t want to go to school. So it’s with sadness that I must say, “Sorry Cracker Barrel, better luck next time.”
(Galbani) Sorrento Stringsters
Rounding out the taste test was the lunchtime favorite, Sorrento’s Stringsters. One look at the packaging of this string cheese and you’ll know exactly why kids can’t get enough of this stuff. I mean, whoever thought to have the mascot be a stick of string cheese dressed up like a surfer dude hanging ten off of his surfboard is a mastermind. The best part? The top of the his head is peeled away to make it look like he has dreadlocks. Genius. And to top it off, the cheese itself isn’t half bad! The texture is a tad bouncy, but the flavor is reassuringly mild for a product that you’ve known has gone through a machine or two. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to not see an ounce of sweat on the outside of the cheese, as eating the Cracker Barrel sticks had given me a bit of PTSD. Eating this cheese made me feel as cool as Stringster himself, and it made me believe that if I could somehow mimic his confidence, maybe I too could find a way to stand up on a surfboard and let my cheese dreads fly through the air.
Once the tasting was done, I was fairly surprised at how close of a race it was. Maybe it’s because there isn’t much license for creativity in the arena, but I’d like to think it’s because it’s hard to have a bad time while snacking on a piece of string cheese. There’s something about the whimsicality and interactiveness of string cheese that makes eating it such an enjoyable experience, and enjoy myself I sure did.