Southern cheese straws are made with a short crust and cheese dough. Hand-grated cheese is preferred over packaged pre-shredded cheese. If using a cookie press, grate the cheese very finely so it won't clog the press. Make sure the butter is at room temperature but not melted, so it is soft enough to ensure that the cheese and butter mixture will be smooth and not gritty.
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 8 ounces sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, finely grated
- 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the butter into thin pieces, approximately tablespoon-size, and beat with an electric hand mixer in a very large mixing bowl until butter is soft. Add all the cheese and beat with the butter until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the mustard.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and hot red pepper. Add to the butter mixture and beat until combined. Form into a ball.
Press dough out with a cookie press into straws, following manufacturer's instructions, or use the following procedure: Divide dough into fourths. On waxed paper, roll each piece into a rectangle 1/3-inch thick. Use a pastry wheel to cut dough into 4- by 1/2-inch strips. Move straws onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 15 minutes, until light brown. Watch carefully, as overly browned straws aren't tasty. Cool on a rack.
Notes: Every oven is different. Cook the first batch, watching carefully, and if too brown, reduce heat to 325 degrees. Rotate pan halfway through baking time. Use more than one baking sheet at a time only if the sheets may be placed in the oven without overlapping. Air must freely circulate or the bottoms will be burned and the tops unbrowned. Switch shelves and positions of the pans as necessary to prevent top or bottom from browning. Take care: white cheese will not brown as much as yellow.
Once the aroma comes wafting out of the oven, they are usually done. Cooking further may burn the cheese. Remove with a metal spatula to cool on a rack. These keep several days at room temperature in a tightly sealed container, or frozen up to 3 months. Due to the heavy humidity in the South, it may be necessary to re-crisp straws on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven.
Variation: Use cookie cutters, a pastry bag, or an indented pizza slicer to shape cheese straws. Cut into coins, triangles, hearts, or specialty shapes for special parties.