Sharp to a Crisp
by Cassie Walton
The simplicity of a cheese straw is its greatest accomplishment.
Sharp cheddar, shredded parmesan, flour, cayenne pepper, salt and butter are all that goes into this classic Southern favorite, and a mainstay of John Shepherd’s family barbeques.
“They were always around as something to snack on,” John, who grew up in Atlanta, said one recent morning. Now he and his wife Kira are paying homage to their southern roots at their Vineyard Haven storefront, Shepherd’s Provisions.
Inside their commercial kitchen, John first combines the dry ingredients followed by the cheese and butter in a food processor, allowing the heat from the machine to soften the butter and blend the mixture. The result is a delicate yet crumbly dough.
Some methods call for rolling the dough into logs and slicing it, but John uses a cookie press, dispensing the dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet before baking.
“The trick is to get the right consistency,” said John.
I know this to be true, for I have made cheese straws and they did not come out like this. There’s a “sweet spot” where just enough air is whipped into the dough so that they don’t fall flat. Over whipped, and they’ll fall apart.
Once baked and cooled, the thin, shortbread straws easily melt in your mouth, making them the perfect snack for the beach, a good accompaniment on a cheese board, or even delicious as an after dinner dessert—a bite that’s a tad bit nutty.
John and Kira opened Shepherd’s Provisions last fall just off State Road. No stranger to the culinary world, John caught the cooking bug while Kira attended culinary school in San Francisco.
“We would cook together all the time,” John said. He would later go on to pursue culinary school in Atlanta.
The couple moved to the Vineyard in 1999, working at various restaurants before deciding to set up their own shop last September. Now, they’re back in the kitchen together. Customers can find everything from prepared salads and desserts to full dinner packages and condiments. The cheese straws cost $6 a bag.
Although their prepared items will likely rotate, John and Kira promise the cheese straws will always be stocked.