“Sometimes a man gets a hankering,” my husband Patrick said last week, “a hankering for food of a color rarely found in nature, a hunger for crunchy snacks that leave greasy, gritty residue along your fingertips. In short, I want some damn cheese puffs!”
I countered with health reasons for avoiding junk food. “And doesn’t that orange color set off some alarm bells in your head?”
“None whatsoever,” Patrick replied. If I was to waste money on crap food, it damn well was going to be tasty crap food.
The following day, we gathered around the kitchen table with friends. “What makes a cheese puff a cheese puff?” queried Patrick. “Glad you asked,” I replied, whipping open the laptop and clicking onto Wikipedia. “Cheese puffs, cheese curls, or corn curls are a puffed corn snack, coated with a mixture of cheese or cheese-flavored powders.”
We divided the collection into puffs and crunches and started with the puffs. Barbara’s Bakery Cheese Puff Bakes original ($2.39 at Whole Foods) “taste like bad cheese popcorn,” complained Frank. “Super-sour finish, almost like vinegar,” added Bernice, “maybe it is the blue cheese in it,” she said, reading the package.
Barbara’s Bakery Cheese Puff Bakes white cheddar ($2.39 at Whole Foods) faired much better around the table. “A sharper cheese flavor and a denser texture,” noticed Bernice. We set that aside as a keeper.
Robert’s American Gourmet Pirate’s Booty with aged white cheddar ($2.69 at Whole Foods) scored major points for the packaging but low points for taste.
“Eww, just take a whiff, smells so chemically. The texture is really lacking; it tastes like a semi-soggy rice cake,” added Erica.
Little Bear Original Baked Cheddar Puffs ($2.69 at Henry’s) suffered in the sniff test also. “It smells like paint,” groaned Frank. “Not enough cheese in these. You can even see it in the color; it is flat,” continued Bernice.
No one liked the Little Bear Lite Cheddar Puffs either ($2.69 at Henry’s). “If you’re going to eat cheese puffs, why go light?” questioned Bernice. “The flavor is off,” said Erica, reaching for a different brand.
The table found a second winner with the Trader Joe’s Reduced Fat Cheese Puffs ($1.59). “This is bringing me right back to my pregnancy,” reminisced Erica. “These puffs got me through the nine months.”
“These are a grown-up cheese puff,” announced Bernice. “I like the ironic sound of that — ‘grown-up’ paired with ‘cheese puff,’” heckled Patrick.
“Sweet, firm, less cheesy than some, but sometimes the less cheesy, the more you can eat,” smiled Bernice.
We added it to our “yes” pile and also added the next package, Trader Joe’s Cheese Puffs. “These things must glow under a black light,” remarked Patrick, holding up a puff from the next bag: Cheetos Puffs ($2.69 at Vons). “Too salty, awful appearance, terrible taste,” stated Erica. “These will give you the cheese dust around the collar, mouth, and on the fingertips,” added Bernice.
Robert’s American Gourmet Smart Puffs ($2.79 at Henry’s) had promise with its packaging. “How can you go wrong with Einstein on the bag doing math problems?” asked Patrick. “Too bad it tastes like Styrofoam peanuts and forms a glop of corn mush in your molars.”
Garden of Eatin’ Baked Cheddar Puffs ($3.59 at Henry’s) was another loser. “So dry, reminds me of a tortilla chip,” grimaced Matthew. “This hurts me.”
“Do you want to call your snack food ‘bursts’?” asked Patrick, perusing the next package of Eagle White Cheddar Bursts ($2.99 at Vons). “These dissolve like cotton candy,” he continued. “I like a little crunch in my puffs — I mean, ‘bursts,’” said Bernice. We left the package in the “forgettable” pile and forged ahead to the crunchy variety.
Garden of Eatin’ Baked Crunchitos ($3.59 at Henry’s) grossed out the company. “Nasty, actively crap,” complained Frank. “These are so unbelievably salty, they are making my sinuses open up,” continued Patrick.
Trader Joe’s Baked Cheese Crunchies ($1.59) were a crowd favorite. “I worship these,” pronounced Frank. “I shall have no false corn puffs,” jested Patrick. “I eat these for the texture, which dare I say is al dente,” remarked Bernice.
Wild Oats Baked Cheese Curls ($1.99 at Henry’s) passed the table test. “A lighter version of the Trader Joe’s Crunchies,” noticed Bernice. “I would go with the T.J. ones first, but these are not offensive.”
Cheetos Baked Crunchy ($3.79 at Vons) brought to mind rancid corn chowder for Frank. “The thing about the Cheetos brand is that they make you feel weird after a while,” said Bernice. “And they always give off a dusting of bright-orange cheese goo.”
“Isn’t that what we are after here?” heckled Patrick.
“I find myself still eating these,” surmised Frank, chowing down on the Cheetos Crunchy bag ($2.69 at Vons). “A good corn flavor, though not unlike Fritos,” he added.
Erica popped open the Little Bear Crunchitos ($2.69 at Henry’s). “Almost taste stale, yet mushy, huh?”
“These look awful. Why do all the crunchy varieties look like cat turds?” said Patrick, grossing out the table.
“You’re not supposed to look at them,” chided Frank. “You just strap on the feed bag, insert into mouth, and watch TV.”