Cheez Wars

Cheez-It is the superior cheese flavored cracker. You’d think that its competitors would realize the secrets to its success and copy them, but nope. Every other cheese cracker has some distinct flaws that doom it as unequal, save for one.

Before we slag other crackers, though, what exactly makes a Cheez-It so awesome?

  • Small, easily grippable square size. You always have a solid grip on the cracker that doesn’t leave cheese litter on your fingers. It also doesn’t stick to your teeth. It’s easy to grab a handful for a snack bag for a side at lunchtime and not make a mess.
  • A proper cracker texture and consistency. This is the real reason why the Cheez-It wins. While other cheese crackers may have a good cheddar taste (see: Goldfish), a Cheez-It is set apart by its crunchiness. It has the crispness you expect from most crackers. Not as hard as hardtack biscuit crackers, but not like a form of compressed cheese powder that comprises Cheese Nips.
  • A variety of tasty flavors.  While the classic Cheez-It is already quite tasty, the other varieties help give a good change of pace, much like flavored potato chips. My favorite is the Hot ‘n’ Spicy variety, even though I have developed an immunity to them. Either that, or they’ve weakened the hot part over time.
  • They go well with other flavors. You can’t really dip cheetos or cheese nips, but Big Cheez-Its are good for dipping and have enough surface area for a cheez-it sandwich (a la triscuits).
  • Jim Cummings does the voiceovers on their commercials. Enough said.

The Cheez-It’s main competition comes from other cheese flavored crackers, cheese puffs, and perhaps non-cheese flavored crackers. One could debate endlessly on the subject of whether or not cheese should be put on top of a cracker or should be integrated in to it. This is not the place for that. For the sake of our sanity, we’re limiting competition to cheese-integral snacks.

The first (and most obvious) competitor is the Cheese Nip, by Kraft. I assume these guys keep making these because people keep falling into the same trap. Some savvy shopper with a loved one sees that Cheese Nips are on sale and they know that they like cheese flavored crackers and they figure “hey, I can save some money.” Unfortunately, this tends to backfire spectacularly, and they are not likely to make that same mistake again. Buying Cheese Nips for someone who loves Cheez-It is like buying a Pepsi lover a bottle of Coke (or perhaps diet, if they don’t like diet). It’s not the same and while they may grin and bear it, they will make sure you hear about it.

What makes the Cheese Nip so repulsive, though? It’s basically the complete opposite of a Cheez-It (that is, instead of being awesome, they’re terrible). The crackers are square and of similar size, yet they’re coated in something similar to Cheeto dust, where it leaves orange droppings all over your fingers. Fucking gross. Eating a snack should (usually) not result in needing to wash your hands, and even then it’s difficult to get the orange crap out. Then, when you actually start eating them, they just feel wrong. The consistency is more like a puffy cracker – almost as if they were made of compressed Cheeto dust. Kraft says Cheese Nips are made from real cheese, if by real cheese they mean real cheese sauce mix from macaroni and cheese boxes. Oh wait, they have a product like that already. How can these things be “preferred” over Cheez-It? It boggles.

The cheese flavor doesn’t feel as full, for lack of a better term, than a Cheez-It. it’s not as if it’s like the difference between a sharp and extra sharp cheddar, for instance, but more that there’s less actual cheese in a Cheese Nip. Not quite sure here, I’m not a food scientist. Perhaps Cheez-Its use blends of cheddars as opposed to Cheese Nips which use just one kind. The real problem with Cheese Nips is that they are just not pleasant to eat. The mushy cracker lacks the crisp crunchiness of a Cheez-it, as if you left the box of Cheez-Its open for a week.  It turns to a sticky paste in your mouth which sticks to your teeth. Ugh. Overall, a bad experience.

Another cheese cracker that is not as offensively bad is the Goldfish cracker. Yes, the cute, smiley goldfish. Note that Goldfish come in flavors other than Cheddar, but most people are familiar with the cheddar variety. Goldfish, unlike Cheese Nips, aren’t a crime against humanity. They’re decent. They don’t leave orange crap on your fingers, the cheddar taste is similar to (but less salty and buttery than) a Cheez-It, and I get a free supply of them at work. Not my first choice, but I certianly won’t complain when Goldfish are at a party. The only downside is that they create that orange clingy paste in your mouth, like a Cheese Nip, even though the crackers are crunchier than Cheese Nips. They do win the award for cheeriest cracker, with their happy go lucky smiley faces.

The other cheese flavored cracker most people think of is the Better Cheddar. These guys are made by Nabisco, which also owned by Kraft, the company that makes the Cheese Nip abominations you just read about above. Luckily for Better Cheddars, they’re actually pretty decent. Instead of trying to copy a Cheez-It and failing to do so, the Better Cheddar goes in a completely different direction. These are thin, crunchy, disc-shaped crackers with a decent cheddar flavor. They don’t suffer from orange paste syndrome and they have a good cheese taste similar to Goldfish. The downside is that they do have a kind of greasy feel, similar to potato chips, even though they are baked. It’s probably due to the cheese used, but it doesn’t litter your fingers with orange dust. Unfortunately for Better Cheddars they are fairly difficult to find these days around here. They were a good alternative for a dipping or topping cracker before Big Cheez-It existed.

Even though they’re not crackers, Cheetos do deserve a mention because hey, cheese flavored snacks. I think Cheetos (and cheese puffs/curls) are pretty good, except for the goddamned dust. They turn your tongue orange too. I especially enjoy Flamin’ Hot ones, but they are difficult to find in the northeast. Overall, I’ll generally snack on a cheese cracker over a cheese puff/curl, but curls and puffs usually taste pretty good. I’m also fine with Jax, Wise Cheez Doodles, etc. The differences between these kinds of products are not as great between crackers.

Lastly, there is one kind of Cheez-It to avoid – and that’s the reduced fat ones. Unlike most reduced fat products I’ve had, it completely ruined the taste and texture of the product. Note to Sunshine: Don’t fuck up Cheez-Its. Love, me.

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