“The marketing plan was very elaborate,” Brian laughs. “It was going to parties and taverns and asking people, ‘What do you think?’”
What they thought was this: It was easy to snack on. It had a mild, pleasant flavor profile. It wasn’t offensive. It was stringy. And it was popular among the bar goers.
“[String cheese] certainly wasn’t targeted specifically to kids,” Brian said. “It was meant to be a functional, high quality piece of cheese you could peel and stretch.” From its humble three- to five-inch length origins, Baker Cheese quickly designed a stick that was thinner, more holdable, and lighter (current string cheese clocks in at 28 grams; prehistoric string cheese was in the 40 to 45 gram range).
That was in 1976. But it wasn’t until the a few years later, when string cheese had become cylindrified from its original twisted rope state and retail opportunities abounded, that string cheese catapulted from a local oddity to a national craze that caught on with the younger set. A key part of that was packaging, Brian said. Rather than stuffing 15-16 sticks into a one pound bag, they started making the individually wrapped mozzarella tubes we know today.
“With the one pound bags, parents would get [the entire bag] but have to throw them out because it would start to spoil,” Brian told me. “But we invested in vacuum packing to extend shelf life. Pretty quickly, kids thought it was cool and the adults liked it, too.”
So, Baker Cheese invented string cheese. But were they the first? The answer to that question is hard to find.
“Certainly in the Midwest, we were the first, I can confidently say that,” Brian said. “That is the birth of the string cheese in our facility. At that point, there was no string cheese in the market, probably in the nation. But I can’t say that for sure.”
There might have been simultaneous Frank-like cheese experimenters out there, breaking mozzarella into bits, making them into sticks to snack on. But there aren’t any patents for string cheese, and those inventors’ stories have been lost to time.
Regardless, it seems string cheese is here to stay. Baker Cheese has even gotten into dietary trends, creating a reduced fat string cheese, an organic string cheese, and a “twisty” string cheese of white and orange-dyed mozzarella swirled into a cheesy twist.
And they’re not just innovating on cheese types either. Brian is now looking to spread the string abroad. “We’re in Vietnam and southeast Asia, we distribute there,” he said. “We ship out our label [to wholesale suppliers] that have gone to the Middle East, Korea, South America, and Mexico.”
No matter where string cheese goes next, though, there is one quality that Brian refuses to compromise on.
“It must string.”