Friday, June 6, 2008
Forced to eat out of a bag
Paging Mr. Peanut! For years I've been wondering if there is anywhere in NYC I can buy Planters Cheez Balls in the cannister. Then, this popped up on my radar! A little more Google searching revealed they are, indeed, no more.
They've been discontinued? What would Amedeo Obici say? Forget nuts. Planters should have built their empire on the backs (?) of their crispy, yellow orbs.
There's no great substitute. Cheese curls just don't cut it, though that's what we usually had around the house. They kind of crisp between your teeth for a second, then melt into goo. There's a place for that, but I don't think they're superior. We had those big, puffy curls, and sometimes we had the fake cheese popcorn that was styrofoamy and had no "corn kernel" center. That stuff was weird, but soothing. And yes, I grew up on off-brand cheese curls, but it didn't dull my palate. Like a childhood drinking powdered milk, it just made me hunger for the good stuff.
It's been a long time, then, so perhaps I remember them as better than they were? The thick cheese flavor is unsurpassed in my mind. They were excellent with pop. The texture was perfection -- just resistant enough when you bit into them, but still easy to master. Eat too many Cheez Balls and you'll appreciate the rough texture. A prolonged snacking session could scrape the roof of your mouth or surface of your tongue. But I respect that. That's how much more oomph they have...had.
I'm not a total snob about it. I'll still buy a bag of curls/puffs/doodles when I'm desperate. Those Utz ones are all over the place here. I'm cool with Cheetos, when I'm in the mood. I like that they're thinner than the average curl. A Cheeto is nicely condensed; I appreciate the density and crisp texture. But I've been harboring a back-of-the-brain dream that I'd walk into a new grocery store or bodega one day and see that cylinder of spheres before me, casually waiting on a bottom shelf amidst more pedestrian bags of barely 3-D potato chips. And I'd say, "Welcome home, Cheez Balls."
Cheesy substitutes in ball form can be hard to find. There's a bar in Brooklyn that serves cheese balls, but I don't know the brand (my college friend Cat swore by a Cheetos-beer pairing). I'm lucky enough to have a steady supply of the Utz cheeseballs at my local pharmacy. A small bag only costs a quarter. They're not quite as crispy as I remember my favorites. They don't stand up to as much abuse. But they're cheesy and round and they crunch when you tell them to. And they get me by.