Cover Story / Ingredients R&D / Operations / Snacks / Plant Features

Utz and its incredible cheese balls

Utz Quality Foods has been around since 1921, when Bill and Salie Utz began making potato chips out of their home in Hanover, Pa. As Utz grew, it started to branch out to make other snack foods, such as pretzels and its incredible cheese balls. But what’s the secret to making these orange, bite-size, melt-in-your mouth snacks?

Utz started making cheese balls in 1990. Sam’s Club, one of its biggest customers, approached Utz and asked if it could package the cheese balls in a barrel rather than in bags. The design team came up with the plastic barrel and infamous purple label that can now be seen in many stores and have even been featured in shows like NBC’s The Office and the Alvin and the Chipmunk movies.

They are made with coarsely ground corn meal that’s deposited into an extruder, which exerts enough pressure onto the corn meal to turn it into a gel. The gel is squeezed into a long string and cut into bite-sized pieces. When the pieces exit the extruder and are reintroduced to atmospheric pressure, they expand and turn into a round puff. From there, they are baked in an oven to remove any excess moisture.

The tasty cheese flavor is a seasoning that starts with vegetable oil and an all-natural cheddar cheese powder, which are mixed together and sprayed over the cheese balls in a tumbling seasoning barrel until they are completely coated. Before leaving the barrel, the cheese balls are also sprayed with salt. They’re then sent off to packaging.

Last year alone, Utz made 14 million pounds of the snack. That’s 7 billion cheese balls! To put that in perspective, that is enough to wrap around the earth more than three times.


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