Mmm, Cheese Please
Herr's Jalapeño Poppers Cheese Curls
Cheetos are the "default" cheesy snack. If someone were to say to you right now, "I want cheese snacks," you would likely first thing of Cheetos. Whatever kind of Cheetos appeared in your brain may vary -- there are a ton of varieties at this point -- but if I had to guess I'd bet it would be the crunchy ones the little hard bits that look like they were pushed out of a tiny Play-Doh fun factory and then crisped until they took on malformed shapes. Those are the most popular, and most famous, of all the Cheetos offerings.
I also don't much care for crunchy Cheetos. I've always been a bigger fan of curls and the other shapes that Cheetos has provided over time. But I will also admit that while I like the curls from Cheetos, they're still lackluster in some ways. The texture isn't right, the cheese could pack more flavor, and overall they just seem like middling fare. I want something bolder and more interesting, which means that when I feel like a cheesy snack I tend to look around at what other items are on offer. That led me down the path of Herr's.
For those that haven't seen the brand before, Herr's Snacks is an American company operating out of Pennsylvania. They mostly service the Northeast and Canada, although I have seen their snacks are far out as Indiana. That was where I original found some of their cheese curls, in a snack shop at work when I used to live in Indiana. There I spied both the Jalapeño Poppers Cheese Curls and the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese curls as well. Both were decent, and I'd rather either flavor above the basic Cheetos Curls, but still it felt like something was missing.
Apparently what was missing was freshness. Although the little bags I was getting from that snack shop were good, I didn't realize they were also just a little bit stale. It makes a certain amount of sense as the curls had to get shipped nine hour or so across the country, through the more humid lands of Indiana, and that apparently degraded the quality just a little. That or the small bags I was getting had a slightly different recipe from the larger bags. Whatever explanation it may be, now that I'm in Virginia I see more offerings from Herr's in stores around town and that means I can get bigger bags of their snacks are grocery stores. So I did.
While I haven't yet found the Tomato Soup variety of curls (although I bet it's only a matter of time), I did find a bag of Jalapeño Poppers Cheese Curls at the local Food Lion (it was next to a set of bags of the Bacon Cheddar Cheese Curls, which I haven't brought myself to buy yet). I snatched up a bag of these guys almost instantly because I was in the mood for a snack to sate my cravings and I knew these were at least better than anything Cheetos could provide. I just didn't realize how right I was.
This bigger bag of the spicy curls actually had everything the small bags back in Indiana were missing. The start, the texture is, in a word, glorious. They're got just enough body to hold up to the moisture of your mouth, so they don't instantly dissolve, without so much crunch that they feel toothsome. It's a light and fluffy texture that still lets you feel like you're eating a "proper snack". Cheetos has never nailed this texture for me, not the way they should. Their curls are too firm or too soft, but Herr's are just right. Buttery yet crunchy.
The flavor, too, is really good. The cheese is prominent, as you would expect from a "cheese curl", but there's also the right hint of spice. Not too much (these aren't "Flaming Hot" or whatever the Herr's equivalent may be) but still a little so you feel it on your tongue. it stays with you just a bit, but fades from the palette before the taste of the cheese does. It's a good linger, spiked with a proper cheesy saltiness that I really enjoyed. I will note this was another thing the small bags didn't quite nail, having too strong a cheese flavor without the right level of spicy heat. The big bags are the way to go here, hands down.
For those not looking for spice, but still wanting a more involved flavor, I would suggest the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese variety. I actually liked these a lot when I could find them back out in Indiana, but they disappeared from the snack shop shelves a few months before I left. I have to assume they will be better in larger bag format, but even the smaller bags were pretty good. So far I've been really pleased with what I've found from Herr's now that I'm back on the East Coast.
The interesting thing about the tomato soup variety is how they blend in the flavor. The tomato taste is more forward on these curls, which does make sense since it's the "Tomato Soup" portion of the name is ahead of the "Grilled Cheese". Cheese is still there, but the tomato seasoning (whatever is used) is slightly more dominant. I'd peg it at 60/40 tomato to cheese flavor. It's a little sweeter than you might expect, to provide that tomato style. Sweet, but not cloying, so you still feel like you're eating a salty snack and not candy.
Seriously, though, if you have a chance and can try out something from Herr's, I do recommend it. They're snacks are great and there's clearly a level of quality that Frito-Lay can quite match. And when i comes to cheese curls, Herr's is hard to beat. These grind Cheetos varieties into the ground and make that Chester guy cry for safety back in the zoo. It's Herr's or bust, my friends.