If you have been paying attention over here in Holiday Land, you’ll notice that I’ve been cranking out the posts lately. I’m trying to catch up. I’m still celebrating every day and haven’t missed a day yet – I’ve just fallen behind on posting. Today’s post is Day 416 when I’m actually writing it on Day 421. I’m actively trying to catch up, but I still have a few to go. I’ve had a few days of double posts which has helped my cause but I’ve also kept my celebrations a bit simpler over the past few weeks just to keep the game moving. Today for example I had the choice of celebrating National Pepperoni Pizza Day, National Punch Day or National String Cheese Day. I went with the cheese which would be the easiest way to go. Plus I get to eat cheese.
To get ready for the day, I picked up a bag of string cheese at the grocery store. This is a section of the dairy aisle that I don’t usually spend a lot of time in. I usually skim the bags of shredded cheese but stop when it turns into the section for snack cheese. I was never one to snack on cheese, at least by choice. If cheese was presented to me, I’d surely and gladly snack on it. But I’m never reaching for it, especially in stick form. I missed the whole string cheese as a snack party. That was another phenomenon that happened after my time. The string cheese marketed as snack foods came in the eighties and I had already aged out of that demographic. I was snacking on more adult things by that time, like Bugles. So, I didn’t grow up with the comfort of reaching in the cheese drawer for a stick of cheese. That’s what I did today. I actually grabbed one for my ride to work and got to snacking on my way in.
The history of string cheese is not definitive but many attribute its creation to the Baker Cheese company in Wisconsin. The story begins after World War II when soldiers came home from being stationed in Italy where they learned to appreciate bread topped with tomato sauce and cheese. To create this at home, they had to recreate mozzarella cheese which was traditionally made in Italy from the milk of a buffalo. (Did you know this? I just discovered this factoid last week. How does one milk a buffalo?) Buffalo being scarce in Wisconsin, dairy farmers there started to make the cheese with milk from a cow (like civilized people) and with that, the pizza boom in the United States was able to kick off and keep running. People started to like the taste of this new cheese, so the folks at Baker Cheese started to think of ways to make it in smaller packages so people could enjoy it as a snack at home. Frank Baker started to experiment. Mozzarella is molded into shape from a continuous flow of cheese that is then shaped into a block or square. Frank decided to cut off strips from that continuous flow and hand stretch them. He would then roll them up and cut them into ropes, and then into little three, four, five inch pieces and then soak them in a salt brine which gave the cheese ‘stringing’ characteristics. Eventually he figured out that wrapping them in vacuum packaging would help preserve them and allow for easy travel. This was in 1976, although the marketing efforts took some time to take off. Once Big Cheese came in, American lunch boxes began to be loaded with these little sticks of protein, perfect for the on-the-go snacker.*
I started liking string cheese when I was making my commute to New Hampshire. I needed snacks for my ride because I’d be starving and I had been making some bad choices. I tried to make some better choices so I’d start packing a cheese snack along with some fruit. It was a nice break from the crap you would get at gas station convenience stores. Even when I didn’t pack snacks, if I stopped at a gas station for snacks, I would seek out the cheese. I didn’t know this but most convenience stores have string cheese available by the unit. Perfect for on the go. You have to seek them out – but they are there in the refrigerator. You’d be surprised what you find in convenience stores. Part of the joy of a cheese snack is being able to enjoy something chilled that has some resemblance of real food. I know it’s not exactly healthy, but when you are eating one, you feel like you are making a good choice. You’re not loading up on carbs or sugar – you’re eating something chockablock full of good American cow milk. It’s a small step in the right direction.
I had that feeling today as I was munching on my string cheese going across the Sakonnet Bridge. I felt like I was starting my day right. I gave myself a snack that all those good moms would give their kids as part of a balanced 80’s diet. It was good too. I’d say it filled me up but I kind of wanted another one, but that’s how cheese always makes me feel. Still, there I was in my car, singing along to the morning radio, an empty cheese wrapper on the floor and my body filled with all the energy a good snack can deliver. That’s what I would call an ample celebration of National String Cheese Day. I may be late to the party, but I’m here to stay. I may even milk the buffalo.
Next Up: National Pecan Cookie Day
*Resource: The Atlantic