Cheese puffs are my favorite snack that turns my fingers a different color. It’s totally worth rocking those neon orange digits if it means I get to scarf down those airy, crunchy treats. Back when I was a wee lad, I snacked on Planters Cheez Balls by throwing them in the air and trying to catch them with my mouth. I usually missed and cited the five second rule before eating my misses off the floor. I graduated to the giant Utz barrel of cheeseballs from Sam’s Club and then Cheetos Puffs. But while eating all these cheese puff varieties, I could not comprehend how these things existed. How are cheese puffs made? These perfect cheese puff balls had to be manufactured out of something. I set out on a cheese-dusted journey to finally discover how cheese puffs are made.
Cheese puffs don’t just magically appear in their containers, ready to be eaten. No, that fortune teller lied to me. They are actually made in factories. Cheese puffs are basically puffed corn covered in a cheesy powder. It’s not popcorn, though. We’re talking about corn meal. Manufacturers mix super finely textured cornmeal with water to form a dough, which they put through a machine called an extruder. (The Extruder was my nickname in highschool! That, and Fatty Cowlicker (long story).) The extruder uses heat, moisture, and pressure to further work the dough, until it finally pushes the dough through a special tool called a die to form its shape. Some dough may become cheese puff balls and other dough may become cheese puffs cylinders, depending on the shape of the die. The uncooked cheese puff that comes out of the die is called a collette. These collettes are baked in a large oven. Then, they’re sprayed with vegetable oil and dusted with cheese powder. Wow, that actually does sound magical!
Word on the street is that cheese puffs were invented by accident while making cattle feed. The story goes that the Flakall Corporation, a Beloit, Wisconsin animal feed manufacturer, had a special grinder machine back in the 1930s. The grinder would turn corn into flakes to maximize the grain that could be turned into feed. Sometimes the grinder would clog up and employees would put moistened corn through the machine in order to get rid of any jams. During this process, the moistened corn was exposed to heat in the machine and came out in puffs rather than flakes. An employee named Edward Wilson took those puffs, added seasoning, ate them, and declared them mighty tasty. Edward named these proto cheese puffs Korn Kurls and a new snack was born. Of course some other companies, like Elmer Candy Corporation, dispute this story and claim to have invented the cheesy snacks. According to Elmer, the Elmer brothers first invented cheese-flavored corn curls (which later became CheeWees) in the 1930s using an animal feed machine they refashioned to specifically make corn curls. Cheetos wasn’t far behind. The company first launched Crunchy Cheetos in 1948 and later introduced Cheetos Puffs in 1971.
Now cheese puffs are everywhere! From cheese balls to Cheetos Puffs to Pirate’s Booty, a puff is my favorite way to consume cheese! Take` it from your old pal, The Extractor! I never licked a cow.