Whenever I do my holiday baking, I try to break up the deluge of sugar with a few savory (or at least, less sweet) treats, too. Everyone gets so many tins full of sugar cookies and fudge and snickerdoodles, that I always find it nice to get something a little bit different, too (although, admittedly, my tins this year will also include sugar cookies, fudge and snickerdoodles).
This year, I’m including some dark chocolate almond and blueberry clusters and these cheddar cheese straws in my holiday tins and treat boxes. If you’ve never heard of cheese straws, no fear, that probably just means you aren’t from the South. Cheddar cheese straws are mega-popular in the Southern U.S., and for good reason—they are ridiculously delicious. The best way to describe them is like a crumbly, cheesy, buttery sugarless cookie. They kinda remind me of the texture of a Cheddar Bay Biscuit from Red Lobster (random reference, anyone?). They have that melt-in-your-mouth kinda quality, but they’re spiked with sharp cheddar and a teeny tiny bit of heat from hot sauce and cayenne pepper. They’re super good.
They’re called cheese straws because traditionally, you fit a cookie press with a certain die that pushes the dough out in a big long log (or use a piping bag), and then you cut the log into individual 3″-4″ straws for eating. The straws are then served hard breadstick style, in an upright container, so they look like straws in a cup.
But because these savory cookies are crumbly and fragile, I’ve found that using the other dies in my cookie press and keeping them in small cookie form helps them from breaking when packed in a holiday treat tin. Plus, I think these little cheesy flowers are so much more adorable than the traditional straws.
Interestingly enough, I had my first ever cheese straw experience while visiting my husband’s grandmother in Canada (decidedly not Southern). She served us these little tiny cheesy cookies that I couldn’t seem to stop grabbing. I’ve yet to ask her how she came across the recipe for something that is so Southern in Northwestern Ontario, but I’m forever grateful to her for introducing me to the world of savory cookies.
If you don’t have a cookie press (although, I highly recommend getting one, they are so fun to use, and make super quick work of a lot of fun holiday cookie recipes—here’s the one I have), you can easily just form this dough into small balls and flatten with your hands or a damp fork (peanut butter cookie style) and bake them that way. For sweet cookies, I’m normally a big, fat, chewy cookie kinda girl, but for these, you really get the best experience from small, thin cookies. You want the cookies to crisp up a bit. and you want the cheese to be able to brown (yum). Think more “small cookie-shaped cracker” than “big, gooey cookie”. If you catch what I’m throwing.