My name’s Danny Palumbo, and I’m from Pennsylvania—home of Herr’s, Utz, Snyder’s, Wise, Middleswarth, Martin’s, Gibble’s, and many more. In short, this is where chips live, baby. And although I no longer live in the Keystone state, I still have a profound admiration for all things potato chips. In this column I will be reviewing some of the best the country has to offer. Welcome to Chip Country.
There are better cheese puffs than Cheetos. Though Crunchy Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos are an all-time snack (and in my opinion the best Cheetos product altogether), the brand’s classic cheese puffs fall into the good-but-not-great category. I know this because I’ve simply had better cheese curls. And the reason I’ve had better cheese curls is because I read the comments—you know, those things everybody tells comedians and writers to avoid. I do it. I read the comments below articles and videos about food because I often learn something by talking to people on the internet. Sometimes that thing is that I’m an idiot/asshole, but then other times I learn about a new product that’s been off my radar—like Jax Cheddar Cheese Curls.
A product of Bachman, another company owned by chip conglomerate Utz, Jax is crunchier than your average cheese curl, with an intense cheesy flavor that has a bit of tang near the end. In short, these fuckers are addictive. There is a very simple reason that Jax cheese curls taste better: more fat and more salt. Per one 28-gram serving, Jax contains more saturated fat and more sodium than Cheetos Puffs. That little “something extra” you taste? It’s backed up by nutritional facts.
These snacks also have an awesome texture that you just don’t experience much in a cheese puff. Instead of being too airy, and therefore nearly dissolving in your mouth, Jax cheese curls have a pleasant crunch all while maintaining their overall lightness. There’s nuance here. It’s almost like this snack has a crispy outer crust encasing a delicate corn meal center.
Most, if not all, cheese curls are made from corn meal, so Jax shares that with Cheetos and other name-brand cheese puffs. Where these doodles differ, however, is that Jax includes buttermilk solids in its list of ingredients. That buttermilk adds tanginess, or the “distinct bite” I’ve been referring to that has something of a white cheddar vibe. Read the labels: White cheddar products often use sour cream or buttermilk to achieve their distinctly cheesy sharpness, and here Jax has just the right amount.
Jax Cheddar Cheese Curls also use disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate, two flavor enhancers that basically work the same as MSG in adding savory quality to snacks. These cheese curls aren’t fried in lard or anything, but the taste is indeed meaty. Bachman says: “Classic quality since 1884! Our cheese puffs are made from the finest ingredients and cooked to perfection.” However, MSG and other ingredients of its ilk weren’t invented until the early 20th century. Despite its cited birth year, Jax feels like a product of the 1970s, full of fat, flavor enhancers, and salt, but with a rougher, crispier texture than modern cheese curls.
Between Jax and Grandma Utz potato chips, I’m starting to think that when it comes to crunchy snacks, old school is best.