The average American eats 30 pounds of cheese a year. Of all the kinds of cheese available, one particularly fascinating type attracts many with its alluring fibrous form and ease of snacking: string cheese. All together, Americans consume nearly 157 million pounds of string cheese annually.
Why is string cheese so stringy? How do you make string cheese? Why does it taste different when you string it compared to when you just bite it?
Basically, string cheese is just mozzarella cheese that has been heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and pushed out through thin pipes. When the cheese is heated, it becomes very stretchy, and the milk proteins move around from their previously randomly oriented positions and line up in rows. This natural alignment of milk proteins, not chemicals or weird processing, makes the cheese stringy.
Here’s a step-by-step summary of how string cheese is made:
- The raw milk first gets pasteurized – this kills bacteria by heating it to extreme temperatures.
- Cheese culture is added – in this case, the bacteria that produces mozzarella. The milk sits for about an hour as the bacteria convert the sugar in milk to lactic acid. The milk proteins lump together, producing chunky curds and liquid whey.
- The whey is drained off and the curds are salted to discourage other bacteria and add flavor. Excess salt is washed off.
- The curds are dumped in a cooker vat filled with hot water to soften them, and huge screw-shaped mixers (augers) knead the softened curds together. The hot water and auger line up the proteins in the cheese, which becomes stringy.
- The curds now come out of a large tube as huge blobs of mozzarella cheese.
- An extruder forces the blobs though skinny pipes into cheese ropes. These ropes get cut to the traditional string cheese length, but you could make mile-long cheese if you wanted to.
While the basic properties of all string cheeses are the same, there is also variability within this specialized class of cheese. In a taste test of nine common string cheese brands, the tasters said they “gravitated to brands that reminded them of the elementary school days. [They] liked the familiar saltiness balanced with relatively soft, not too rubbery or crusty textures.” See how your preferences line up, and maybe conduct a few tests of your own.
Eating techniques also affect taste. Stringing the cheese causes more of the inner cheese surface area to contact your tongue as you eat, producing a different taste than just biting off a chunk.
Cody Hoyt (’13) said, “When you just eat it, it’s like a block of cheese, but when you string it, it’s so much lighter and… loftier? I don’t really have a good word for it. It’s just better.”
Texture and smell also play a role in taste, which is why crispy yet melty breaded mozzarella sticks are arguably better than classic string cheese.
If you are hungry for more visual details about the creation of string cheese, this video from the Food Network explores Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese Factory and how it makes string cheese, from raw milk to final stringy goodness. The Huffington Post also has an article and video on the process of making string cheese.
Hopefully now you are well versed in the ways of string cheese. There is one last thing we need from you, though: How do you eat your string cheese? Do you string, bite, or combo? Or do you detest string cheese in any form? Let us know in the poll!