Pity the foodie who has never sampled pão de queijo, the impossibly pliant, addictively chewy Brazilian cheese bread made with tapioca (the secret ingredient that offers the chew like none other). Ludmilla “Milla” Benevides arrived on American soil 18 years ago via Rio de Janeiro in pursuit of a career in bossa nova — brought her beloved pão de queijo with her from home, baking them for friends and family. Since 1998, Milla and her husband, Marcello Pimenta, have offered unforgettable, high-energy bossa nova performances all over the East End. This newest passion project demonstrates the symbiotic relationship the couple has found between music and food.
Pão de queijo — or cheese puffs, as Milla now calls them — have been part of Brazil’s legacy for nearly 200 years. Before the introduction of cheese, though, the food was a combination of soaked, peeled cassava root, combined with milk and eggs, a food of access made by African slaves. In the 19th century, cheese was added, and the popular puffs were born.
Milla’s version of the Brazilian staple involves six locally sourced ingredients (apart from the tapioca, which she gets fresh from Brazil). Her product, which arrives in pre-batched balls, are ready-to-bake. Pouches come in two sizes: cocktail size (30 to a bag) and classic size (10 to a bag). In addition to the classic flavor, Milla has also introduced a new flavor, the tomato and basil cheese puff.
Through her website, millaspuffs.com, puff enthusiasts can purchase cheese puffs in bulk. But local East End businesses have also picked up on the pão de queijo trend of late. Provisions Natural Food Market in Sag Harbor — as well as the new outpost, in Water Mill — now carries the cheese puffs. You can also find them at the Community Supermarket & Deli in Hampton Bays, the Hampton Fruit & Vegetable Market in East Quogue, Village Prime Meats in East Quogue, Iavarone Bros. in Wantagh, Buoy One in East Hampton, Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, and Serene Greene Farm Stand and Seafood Market in Sag Harbor.
The farmer’s markets are abuzz with cheese puffs, too, this season. Good Ground at Hampton Bays, Westhampton Beach, Southampton at Agawam, and Riverhead Winter Market are just a few of the farmer’s markets where you can expect to find Milla’s cheese puffs this year.
If you have never experienced the chewy, luscious goodness of a cheese puff before, this is your year. Fall is the perfect time of year to stock up. Serve them as appetizers, serve them as snacks, serve them before Thanksgiving — just serve them. Cheese puffs are an excellent entrée into the wide world of Brazilian food. Better yet, they’re an excellent way to support a local business (or several local businesses, actually), all from the privacy of your own home. If the idea of a kitchen filled with the scents of slowly baking cheesy bread brings a smile to your face — and why wouldn’t it? — Milla’s cheese puffs are the fall treat you may not have known you needed in your life. Go forth, and get your chewy, cheesy bread on.