Welcome to Actually, a safe space for us to share our deeply-held but likely-unpopular opinions about food and drinks.
Before writing for MUNCHIES, I worked at a cheese magazine. People like to imagine that means I ate a lot of cheese all day, but unfortunately, it was mostly just Googling cheese news and looking for cheese pictures.
If you do that long enough, you learn a few things: Crimes happen with surprising frequency at Chuck E. Cheese, and brands and restaurants rely heavily on the “cheese pull” to get eyes on their new products. Recently, however, the cheese pull has morphed from the modest pizza slices of yore to monstrous, melty messes like this one.
Now that my job no longer requires pandering to cheese obsessives, I have to say: Fuck the cheese pull. At best, it’s an overdone gimmick; at worst, it turns foods into monstrosities focused less on flavor and more on likeliness to be Instagrammed by would-be influencers. Like “unicorn food” and “mermaid food,” Big Cheese Pull is yet another example of appearances trumping eating experience.
There are different levels of cheese pull—and it’s the extreme end of the spectrum that takes a normal, even appealing aspect of eating something gooey and exaggerates it until it’s a grotesque funhouse version of the original food. (Disclosure: MUNCHIES partakes in acceptable levels of cheese pull content, and it doesn’t make me gag.)
What I mean by Big Cheese Pull—and what I hate—can be summarized by the top posts on #cheesepull at any given moment, or the sorts of things that get shared by cheese-centric social media pages: pastas that look like more cheese than noodle; these things that I only realized were garlic knots when I read the description; this burger that looks like it’s barfing cheese strings. At its most extreme, Big Cheese Pull merges with other viral food trends. For absolutely no good reason, there’s the goth cheese and the rainbow grilled cheese.
My problem with Big Cheese Pull is that the cheese that pulls the best doesn't necessarily taste the best. In their mass-produced state that inexpensive restaurants rely on to melt well (and thereby create the iconic stringiness), cheeses like mozzarella and Fontina don’t have a lot of flavor. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy eating whatever they’re draped over or stuffed into, but that enjoyment comes from the richness or creaminess as opposed to actual flavor. Maybe some of the places getting social media clout for their soft ropes of hot dairy are using Actual Nice Cheese, but, considering they don’t tout having done so, I seriously doubt it.
Of course there’s enjoyment in watching a gooey mess of cheese grow as you stretch it. I’ve pulled a mozzarella stick apart before myself, and, sure, it’s probably even more fun if that mozzarella stick is, say, one of the giant, internet-famous versions. But why would you want to eat something that deviates from the existing, perfect ratio between breading and cheese of a normal mozzarella stick? A basket of your basic TGI Friday’s appetizer might not go viral, but it tastes damn good.
Look at this calzone: there’s so much cheese in it that when it’s cut open, everything just oozes out. Big Cheese Pull means being left with a) a mass of spilt cheese that will inevitably get oily and congeal as it cools and b) the sad empty shell of whatever was containing it. That’s because Big Cheese Pull isn’t meant to be eaten—it’s meant to be seen.
Which then makes you wonder: What happens after the wannabe-viral Big Cheese Pull? Once all the glisteny cheese goo has oozed out, does someone eat the resulting mess? As research suggested in 2017, often the answer is no, and these social media-inspired food trends in fact fuel food waste.
Aside from my own preferences (and gag reflex), the problem with Big Cheese Pull is that it’s just bait to make you buy things. And it works. In 2016, an ad exec told Quartz that cheese pulls make people go “out of their right minds,” invoking an involuntary hunger so “they just without thinking go out and eat a lot of the product.”
Big Cheese Pull is the most over-the-top form of that, weaving the act of buying food into an internet-focused culture that results in things like $1,000 tables meant for Instagrammers and restaurant design tailored to internet aesthetics. Online, Big Cheese Pull is a way to make you click—with clicks translating to cash for the content creators.
(And it’s not just Brands that want you to eat more cheese—the government is trying to offload its surplus dairy onto citizens all the time. As Bloomberg Businessweek investigated last year, the marketing firm Dairy Management International works to combat America’s huge oversupply of dairy, mostly by inserting as much cheese as possible into fast food.)
Cheese pulls are active acts of manipulation trying to sucker your neurons into wanting something that probably won’t taste as good as it looks. And now we’ve taken that concept so far past the point of diminishing returns that even the visuals are, frankly, kind of gross. So fuck the cheese pull—I’m not falling for it.