Cheese Curls (also known as cheese puffs, cheese balls, cheesy puffs, corn cheese and corn curls) are popular snacks that are made from corn and flavored by cheese or cheese-flavored additives. First used in 1930s, this American-invented snack became very popular in post 1950s USA. The basic ingredients of Cheese Curls are just cornmeal and water, but the process of creating them is complicated enough that ordinary users cannot make them in their kitchen easily.
Process of creating cheese curls starts with picking perfect type of cornmeal, which has to be very finely textured and with low moisture content (6-10%) so that it is pleasant when eaten. Moisture content is important because too much moisture will make end product to soggy. Cooking of cornmeal is done by continuously mixing while applying fine mist of hot water (pouring water will not produce consistency across entire structure of the cornmeal).
When the consistency of the cooked cornmeal is achieved, mix needs to immediately be processed by extruding machine, which will propel the cornmeal mixture using auger or tapered screw. While cornmeal is liquid under high pressure of the extruding machine, as soon as it exits the machine through die, it immediately solidifies, expands and puffs. The shape of the die has large impact on the shape of the Cheese Curl snakes (collettes), which are cut by the rotating knife.
But that is just the start of the recipe that makes modern cheese curls. After collettes are extruded and cut, they are still in pretty raw state. Pieces are still moist, and they are conveyed to the drying area. Drying area is not just a single oven, but a series of them that have different stations between them, most notably flavorings. During transport, deformed, too small or collettes that have large particles are separated, and only perfect pieces are left on conveyer. Fines are removed because they absorb wrong quantities of flavorings and can taste different. Flavoring of curls is done in a rotating barrel where curls are tumbled while flavored liquids are spraying them. These liquids are mixture of oils, flavors, spices and colors. One of the most important steps of the flavoring and drying is that additional oil layer has to be present on the outside of the curls. After drying (during which curls are jumping on a vibrating conveyor so that they don’t stick either to the ground or one to another) curls can be packaged, sealed and stored for transport.
The entire process of creating Cheese Curls in industrial environment is very precisely monitored so that all aspects of production are within tolerances of health and safety quality control. Most important scrutiny is placed on cornmeal, its moisture and grit size.