In 1976, Frank Baker had an idea. A cheese baron from Wisconsin (naturally), Frank’s family had been selling cheese since 1916. Introduced to America in the 1940s, mozzarella became a hit in the U.S. after World War II with the proliferation of pizza joints, and Baker Cheese switched gears, ditching cheddar for mozzarella in order to meet the craze. Consumers were looking for individual servings they could eat as snacks rather than the 20-lb. blocks Frank’s family made, so he started playing around with the manufacturing process and started cutting blocks of mozzarella into strips that he would then braid them into 3-5″ ropes. Frank discovered that by soaking these mozzarella strips in a salt brine they would take on a stringy characteristic. Boom! In 1976, string cheese was born.
Interestingly, Frank originally marketed his string cheese to bars throughout Wisconsin. Patrons loved them and he eventually settled on a smaller, thinner cheese stick that people could hold more easily. The real stroke of genius was in the packaging: Frank opted for individually wrapped tubes that were vacuum packed, making his string cheese portable. It started finding its way into kids’ lunch boxes, and the rest is history.
Team Eat My Words (and we really have expanded to include a few of my coworkers, who have taken to these food tastings like post-war Americans took to pizza) wondered how different brands of string cheese tasted and set out on a journey of discovery. The rules were simple: string cheese only (there are lookalike cylindrical tubes of harder cheddars, but they go by the moniker “stick cheese” and were excluded due to an inability to peel them into stringy strips). We ended up with a face-off between four competitors: Frigo, Galbani, Kroger, and Horizon. All were mozzarella except the Galbani, which was a provolone. We looked at two key factors in our test: taste and peel-ability.
Frigo is probably the best-known brand. Their “Cheese Heads” in the familiar green packaging have been around for eons, and there is a good reason: they were the unanimous favorite among all four testers. We found the Frigo pleasantly cheesy, with a creamy yet pliable texture that was easy to peel. One person remarked that Frigo “tastes like childhood,” and I’m inclined to agree.
Surprisingly, we liked the Kroger brand second best. It was the softest of the four we tried and one taster declared it the “fakest” of the group – but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its flavor was a tad milder, but all in all it stood up on its own and makes a viable fill-in for those looking to save a few extra pennies.
Galbani touts itself as “Italy’s favorite cheese brand” and seems to be popping up in more and more stores lately. In retrospect we probably should have stuck with the mozzarella to ensure the competition was as evenly matched as possible, but I was intrigued over the prospect of a different type of string cheese and wanted to give the provolone a shot. We felt it had a more pronounced cheesiness than the others and was saltier, no doubt a result of the different flavor profile. Provolone is harder than mozzarella and this resulted in a string cheese that was more difficult to peel. It wasn’t bad by any means; some of us chose it as our runner-up. I’m curious to try their mozzarella version next.
Horizon was both the most expensive brand we tried, and our least favorite. This just goes to show that price doesn’t always translate to quality. Horizon’s string cheese is all organic, and there’s a lot to like about this brand – they did, after all, do very well in our boxed mac ‘n cheese challenge – but when it comes to string cheese, they fell just short of the mark. The Horizon tasted the most “authentically cheesy” out of all four brands, but was firmer than the others and more difficult to peel. In the end, it just didn’t have the “wow” factor the others had. We do not think Horizon is worth the extra money, especially compared to the far cheaper Kroger brand.