Hooked On Cheese: String Cheese And School Days

This is the fourth Hooked on Cheese column in our multi-part series focusing on "grocery store cheeses." Great cheese doesn't have to be pricey and difficult to obtain; there are many excellent options that can be found at your average grocery store. Raymond will be featuring cheeses that are readily accessible no matter where you are or what your budget.

This is the time of year we all start seeing throngs of children running together in packs or jumping onto buses on their way to school. The back-to-school days of early September never fail to remind me why fall is such a great season: it feels like a fresh start full of new beginnings and excitement, especially for young'uns.

This was never more apparent to me than earlier this week when I stopped by my friend's home one morning as she was packing lunches for her four kids. They were running around like crazy, thrilled to start the new school year. As I chatted with their mother, I noted how she packed their lunches. Each child received fruit of some sort — an apple for the eldest, a pear for another. She put lunchmeat in as well, rolled into tubes — turkey for two and ham for two. She added healthy chips to each box (three different varieties) and lastly added a single portion of string cheese to each. I remarked that it was the only common ingredient in all the lunches, and she said the kids all love the stuff; it never came back uneaten after school. Being a cheese guy myself, I naturally complimented her on raising them right.

But what is it about string cheese that has universal kid appeal? I mean, children in that wide of an age range (4 to 12 years old) hardly ever agree on anything. On my way home, I ran into the grocery store to pick some up to sample for myself. I found a store brand, a national brand and even an organic option. I opened them and started eating; they were all satisfying enough but certainly not unique, and I thought, "So why on earth do kids adore them?"

I quickly phoned my friend and asked her to clarify her children's string cheese obsession. After calling me a doofus — incidentally, not the first time she's done that — she said I wasn't eating them correctly. She told me kids love separating them into strings and eating the strands one at a time...hence the name. I momentarily felt like a fool and then realized: string cheese falls into the category of pasta filata ("pulled curd") cheeses, mozzarella and provolone being the most recognized versions. It is a very young pasta filata cheese, with a lower moisture content than mozzarella; while it comes packaged as a solid chunk, it can easily be pulled apart string by string. Eureka!

So I opened my last sample and ate it as a kid would, and lo and behold, it did taste better; eating it was even fun. I immediately realized why children would like this cheese. It's not salty, not sharp, it tastes lightly sweet and, most importantly, you get to play with it! In the back-to-school days of my youth we didn't have string cheese, but I'm happy to say that today it made me feel like a big kid.

You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.