A few days ago, Meredith McMillan opened her email and found quite a surprise. It was an email asking her to share the main ingredients in her cheese crisps. Upon further investigation, Meredith learned that a national cheese straw company was behind the request. Meredith picked up the phone, called the company and a nervous employee replied “I apologize… I was just doing my job… it is for comparative purposes.” In other words, they compared their cheese straws to Merry Cheese Crisps and wanted the recipe.
Do you remember flipping through your mother or grandmother’s recipes? Every card said something like “Vallie’s Fried Chicken” or “Myrtle’s Twice Baked Potatoes”. Many a Southern cookbook presented a recipe followed by a short biography. For example, “Mrs. Bill Finn enjoys gardening and playing bridge with the ladies from the Junior League.” Down South, we never pass off a recipe as our own when we know good and well where it came from. It is simply bad manners.
Meredith is the first person to pay tribute to her mother and grandmother for her love of cheese crisps. Why crisps and not straws? Meredith’s mother tried to make cheese straws and found it frustrating. So she tweaked her recipe by making her straws round and adding pecans. Over the years, Meredith watched her mother and began to play more and more with the family cheese “round” recipe. Eventually, she perfected a modern and elegant version and Merry Cheese Crisps was born.
If you ask Meredith what the most important ingredient in a perfect cheese crisp is, the answer may surprise you. Yes, the type of cheese is important. The cheese- to- flour ratio is also important. The perfect amount of heat can make or break a cheese crisp. But the most important ingredient is how a cheese crisp makes you feel. It should make you remember. You should remember your grandmother covered in flour, hands stained orange, letting you taste the raw dough. You should remember not even wanting a cheese crisp because you ate so much of the hand- grated cheese. You should remember family and that in the South we come together in the kitchen.
These memories are why Meredith bakes Merry Cheese Crisps. She is the first person to tell you how tough the small-batch food business is. For Meredith, commitment is piping every single cheese crisp by hand; commitment is falling into bed exhausted after a long day of baking and waking up with dough in her hair. It is the perfect dollop baked low and slow. It is an elegant cheese crisp meant to be served year round.
On an average baking day for Meredith, 12,000 cheese crisps are hand piped. If you drive by at just the right time, you can catch her lugging hundreds of pounds of cheese into the kitchen. When the door swings the other way, she emerges with beautiful green and blue tins and it all seems so… effortless. As the cheese crisps melt in your mouth childhood memories abound. Meredith may one day share her recipe but the kitchen voodoo that happens behind those doors will never be copied. And voodoo it is. It has been known to make entire tins of spicy, crunchy cheese crisps vanish in a matter of moments. Meredith says she’s heard about this phenomenon… but not to worry… there are more Merry Cheese Crisps in the oven.
Ashley Tarver is the founder of Copper Pot Kitchen, a line of gourmet infused olive oils made in the South. Often referred to as a “young female version of Anthony Bourdain,” Ashley has traveled the globe look for interesting ways to use olive oil. From the beaches of Malaysia to the Pintxo bars of Spain to the labyrinth-like homes of Morocco, she has eaten with the locals and worked with some of the best chefs in the world including jobs in three Michelin starred restaurants. For more information, visit: www.copperpotkitchen.com