When we're looking for a healthy, high-protein, portable snack we can toss in a lunch box or a gym bag, a lot of us look to string cheese. Kids love it. Adults love it. It's mozzarella, after all.
The funny thing is, there are tons of string cheese brands on the market, all selling a product that looks exactly same as the rest: a cylinder of pale white cheese in a pull-apart plastic wrapper. Take any one of them home and it'll taste like, you know, string cheese. Aside from the price and the label, however, there are a few key differences. Some have more or less flavor and some are more or less stringy, for example.
In an effort to identify the best-tasting string cheese, I hit every supermarket in town and bought every nationally available brand I could find. Then I employed the cheese-hater in my family to set up a blind tasting for me and my kids (since they're the primary string cheese consumers in the house, their opinions matter).
Although they all tasted like (you guessed it) string cheese, it was interesting to note how some were quite a bit saltier or tangier or rubberier than others. The differences were subtle, but they were there.
Frigo Cheese Heads String Cheese, $9 for 36
This one was my favorite for its classic flavor and texture. It's creamy, but still a bit bouncy, as you expect from part-skim mozzarella. The flavor is rich and cheesy but a little tart, with the salt and acidity in perfect balance. The only downside is that when you peel off the strings, some end up like thin annoying hairs, which others may love. (I like my string cheese to peel off in thick shreds.)
Galbani String Cheese, $6 for 12
My triple-cream-loving 5th-grader chose this one as her favorite, because she said it reminded her of brie. Its texture is definitely the softest, creamiest, and richest of the bunch. It lacks the bounce of classic string cheese, and the flavor hints of something deeper than mozzarella, something more like Jack cheese.
It's probably the furthest from "classic" string cheese of all the brands we tried, but it's so tasty we couldn't help but give it a high score. Also, if this seems like a newish brand, it's because the parent company, Lactalis, rebranded Sorrento (East Coast) and Precious (West Coast) brands as Galbani.
Organic Valley Stringles, $6.50 for six
This one isn't as bright and tart as the Frigo, but has a balanced saltiness and richer texture than most other brands we tried. The pieces come off in not-so-stringy strands, which may be a pro or con in your book.
Organic String Cheese, $5 for nine at Trader Joe's
TJ's regular string cheese is pretty straightforward and classic, both in texture and flavor, with a smack of acidity on the finish. It lacks the richness of the three brands listed above, but is plenty crowd-pleasing. The organic version, on the other hand, is quite a bit saltier and the texture on the finish is a bit chalky.
Sargento String Cheese, $4.50 for 12
This one has a very classic "string cheese" flavor, but is quite salty and a little too sour on the finish. It also has a more plastic-like texture.
365 Organic String Cheese, $4 for six
Whole Foods' store brand is pretty darn good; it's rich and flavorful. But it skews so acidic that it tastes more like a sharp cheddar cheese than a mozzarella.
Kraft String Cheese, $5 for 12
The overall flavor here is of butter (read: very mild and bland and sort of mouth-coating). I like butter, so I actually kind of dig it, and the texture reminds me a lot of squeaky cheese curds, but it just doesn't taste as cheesy as the rest.
Kroger String Cheese, $3.50 for 12
This one isn't labeled "light," but it has a spare quality to it, like the difference between nonfat and 2 percent milk. It just isn't as rich as the rest, and it has a bland buttery-ness and squeaky-ness similar to Kraft. The strings are those annoying-to-me super-thin kind.
Horizon Organic String Cheese, $4.50 for six
This one scored low based on its aftertaste, which is, I'm sorry to say, reminiscent of a sour burp. Honestly if you had this on its own you might not even notice, but when compared with other brands the flavor is distinctly different (and unwelcome).
What's your favorite string cheese? Is it on this list? And do you prefer your strands be extra stringy or thicker?