The CheeseCrisps Story
- A Recollection
John Wm. Macy’s Company has grown to craft a variety of CheeseSticks and CheeseCrisps over the years, but it all started with just one product - “Original” Cheddar CheeseSticks. After many late nights and crafty combinations, John invented the bite-sized, “double cheese” squares that are now a cornerstone of the Company’s beloved product line.
As I learned during a recent conversation with John Wm. Macy (who also happens to be my Dad), CheeseCrisps did not result from methodical development, but in a high-pressure response to a big customer’s request for a better bar snack. From my perspective, this could not be more fitting. CheeseCrisps are the perfect accompaniment during cocktail hour, and here’s the story of how the world came to agree.
The year was 1988. CheeseSticks was three years old (I was just five), operating out of a 600 square foot “factory” near the corner of 13th Street and First Avenue on New York’s East Side and producing only the original CheeseSticks. In September, Dad got one of those calls that every small business owner dreams about – a satisfied client had suggested CheeseSticks as a bar snack for the swanky new Grand Hyatt Hotel bar above Grand Central Station.
The plan was for Hyatt to conduct trials by rotating different snacks through the bar, like a culinary spring training tryout. The foot was in the door, but CheeseSticks had to prove it had the right stuff. It is safe to say it rose to the occasion and passed the test with golden-brown baked colors.
After enthusiastic feedback from the bar’s patrons, Dad got the good news: CheeseSticks had won the account. The initial order was 10 cases a week, a huge order at the time (worth about $400) from a major new marquee client.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing yet. CheeseSticks was a small, rapidly-growing company and often struggled to keep up with demand. Just one slightly overcooked batch could mean a customer’s order would come up short. Some of the Company’s retail accounts could be flexible when this happened; however, as Dad quickly learned, the Hyatt organization didn’t speak “flexible.”
The man receiving the Grand Hyatt’s deliveries, which Dad often made in person, was “Big Steve.” You didn’t mess with Big Steve. If something was off, Dad heard about it, and it wasn’t sugar coated. “Hey, we asked for 10 cases and you brought 8, what is this?! Can you do it or not?!” Big Steve was Dad’s only link to the executive chef, a man John dearly wanted to impress. Big Steve’s attitude was “you don’t talk to the chef, you talk to me, and I talk to the chef.”
This fledgling relationship continued for a couple of months. Then one day Big Steve had a delivery of his own – a message. “Chef wants to know if you can make them smaller.” No explanation as to why, perhaps he thought CheeseSticks were too large for bar snacks. Whatever the reason, Dad needed to make them smaller.
Getting it right took a while. Dad’s first idea was to offer half sized sticks, but it didn’t fly. Then one day while making deliveries, he got an idea while thinking about the Company’s discarded leftover dough. When the dough was cut for CheeseSticks, there were always trimmings left over that couldn’t be used. It wasn’t a huge amount, but for a struggling small business it was painful to throw away. Dad thought to himself “what if I use the trimmings to make smaller cheese squares?”
What made this idea appealing was that the trimmings already had several rich layers of cheese folded into them (which is how CheeseSticks are still made today). Repeating the cheese-folding process with even more cheese would result in “double cheese.” The miniature squares would be smaller than CheeseSticks, but packed with more cheese flavor.
Dad immediately collected that day’s trimmings and made a test batch. As soon as it was out of the oven, he ran the crispy squares up to the Grand Hyatt. While most of the moments in this story are a bit hazy in Dad’s memory – it was more than 25 years ago – he remembers the moment when Big Steve tasted this first batch as clearly as the day it happened. “Chef is gonna love these,” said Big Steve. And “Chef” did. Later that day there was an initial order for five cases. Luckily, there were enough trimmings to fill the order and Dad delivered it a few days later. But then things got crazy.
By the time he returned to the factory, Dad got a call from Big Steve. “They’re putting these things everywhere. I need twenty cases by tomorrow.” At this point in the story, I was thinking to myself, wow, what a jubilant moment that must have been. As if he was reading my mind, Dad quickly remarked, “It was not a happy moment. It was like, how am I ever going to do this?”
CheeseSticks did not have close to enough of the cheesy trimmings to produce an order that size, let alone by the next day. Without a recipe to refer to, Dad needed to figure out how to create more “trimmings,” and fast.
So he rounded up his ten employees, made mock “trimmings” from fresh shredded cheese and sourdough and they worked all day Saturday to produce the twenty cases. These new Crisps, by Dad’s admission, were not exactly the same as the initial sample. This did not go unnoticed. As Dad recalls from a phone conversation with the chef following the delivery, “These aren’t really the same,” he said suspiciously, “but they are good.”
With the chef’s approval, CheeseCrisps (which John christened “Double Cheese Micros”) were off and running. The Grand Hyatt began ordering 50 cases twice a week and if they were ever 2 or 3 cases short, Big Steve would be sure to let Dad know. Before long, other hotels came calling. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today the Company produces seven varieties of CheeseCrisps (five of them offered in retail packaging), which now account for about half of the Company’s production and sales. Not surprisingly, CheeseCrisps are still the Macy family’s go-to snack at cocktail hour and social gatherings large and small.
To give you a few ideas for the next time you mix up some drinks, here are five suggested pairings of John Wm. Macy’s CheeseCrisps with some of my favorite classic cocktails:
Asiago & Cheddar CheeseCrisps with Manhattans – The original best-selling CheeseCrisps variety is at home with any cocktail by its side. But none seems more fitting than the Manhattan. It’s as classic as it gets and also my personal favorite cocktail of all time. Put these two together and you’ve got a first-class ticket to an instant cocktail party.
Chipotle & Cheddar CheeseCrisps with Margaritas – This is a no-brainer. If your taste buds crave a spicy bit of heaven that pairs perfectly with a traditional margarita, Chipotle & Cheddar CheeseCrisps are for you. My favorite aspect of these crisps is the flavorful heat you get from the diced chipotle peppers. Working deliciously with the aged Cheddar & Asiago cheeses and the rich, sweet butter, this crispy kick elevates any guacamole bowl and takes taco night to a whole new level!
Melting Romano CheeseCrisps with Negronis – One Italian classic deserves another. The Negroni has always been one of my favorite pre-dinner cocktails because of its lower-proof ingredients (excluding the gin, of course), making it perfect for cocktail hour. The sharp and salty Romano cheese in these CheeseCrisps provides a delicious counterpoint to the cocktail’s refreshingly bitter finish.
Melting Romano CheeseCrisps with Aperol Spritzes – Here is another pairing with an Italian accent. Aperol is less assertively bitter than Campari, which is why it matches so well with the more delicate, buttery Melting Romano Crisps. Both the cocktail and the Crisps are on the lighter side, but full of flavor. This is a great option for a summer barbecue or a picnic at the beach.
Sesame Gruyère CheeseCrisps with Side Cars – This combination pairs the subtly rich CheeseCrisps with a deceptively complex cocktail, also one of my favorites.This elegant combination brings together a French cocktail with a Swiss-themed appetizer, two countries known for their appreciation of fine food and drink.
· 2 ½ ounces rye whiskey
· ¾ ounce sweet vermouth
· 2 dashes Angostura bitters
· Method – Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice, stir and serve straight up in a chilled glass. Garnish with 2 cherries on a pick.
· Jalapeño Margarita
· 2 ounces blanco tequila
· 1 ounce Cointreau
· ¾ ounce lime juice
· ½ ounce simple syrup (or to taste)
· 1-2 thin jalapeño slices
In a shaker, muddle the jalapeño slices in simple syrup. Add remaining ingredients. Fill with ice, shake and fine strain on the rocks over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel (if you’d like).
· 1½ ounces gin
· 1 ounce Campari
· 1 ounce sweet vermouth
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice, stir and serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange twist.
· 3 ounces Prosecco
· 2 ounces Aperol
· 1 ounce soda water
Combine all ingredients in a wine glass over ice. Garnish with an orange slice.
· 2 ounces cognac
· 1 ounce Cointreau
· ¾ ounce lemon juice
In a shaker, combine all ingredients. Fill with ice, shake and serve straight up in a chilled glass, half rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange twist.
About the Author
Tom Macy is head bartender and part-owner at the award-winning cocktail bar Clover Club in Brooklyn, NY where he tends bar, creates new cocktails and helps curate the menu. He is also the son of John Wm. Macy, CheeseSticks founder and CEO. John Wm. Macy's CheeseSticks was Tom's playground as he grew up and he inherited his dad's passion for food and entertaining. Tom also consults on cocktail programs for bars, restaurants and hotels. Most recently he designed, with Clover Club founder Julie Reiner, the menu for the new rooftop bar at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Times Square.
Tom writes about cocktails for the Huffington Post and Liquor.com. He looks forward to connecting with CheeseSticks fans and offering his advice on how to construct the perfect cocktail to go with "the perfect crunch!" Tom lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Ellen, and their two daughters, Willow and Violet. For more cocktail tips, articles and videos, visit Tom's website at www.tommacy.com