Poutine and cheese fries are two iconic comfort foods that both feature french fries smothered in cheese and gravy. While they may seem quite similar at first glance, there are some key differences between these two dishes in terms of their origins, ingredients, preparation methods, nutritional value, and cultural significance.
Poutine originated in rural Quebec, Canada in the late 1950s. Several stories exist about who exactly invented poutine, but it’s generally accepted that it was created by combining french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy at a small restaurant in Warwick, Quebec. The dish quickly spread across Quebec during the 1960s and became popular comfort food associated with Quebec cuisine and culture.
Cheese fries likely originated in the United States sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. They were created by topping french fries with melted cheese sauce. Cheese fries grew in popularity across diners and fast food restaurants in the U.S. during the latter half of the 20th century. Unlike poutine’s origins in Quebec, cheese fries do not have any distinct geographical or cultural roots in America.
The core ingredients in poutine are:
- French fries – Usually fresh-cut, thick fries
- Cheese curds – Fresh, squeaky cheese curds are key
- Brown gravy – Traditional poutine features rich, flavorful gravy
The core ingredients in cheese fries are:
- French fries – Often skinny, crispy fries
- Cheese sauce – Made from cheese melted into a roux or sauce
- Bacon, ranch, chili, etc. – Popular additional toppings
The type of cheese used is one of the major differences between the two dishes. Poutine uses fresh, soft cheese curds that are critical for the authentic texture and flavor. Cheese fries use a melted cheese sauce made from cheeses like cheddar, nacho cheese, or American cheese.
Poutine has a very simple preparation method:
- Cut and fry potatoes into french fries
- Grate cheese curds or cut into pieces
- Make brown gravy and keep warm
- Place fries in bowl, top with cheese curds, then pour hot gravy over the top
Cheese fries allow for some variability in preparation:
- Cut and fry potatoes into fries
- Prepare cheese sauce either on the stovetop or by melting shredded cheese
- Pour cheese sauce over fries
- Optional additional toppings like bacon, ranch, etc.
The emphasis for poutine is layering the components properly so the hot gravy melts the cheese curds. Cheese fries preparation focuses more on making a smooth, creamy cheese sauce that coats all the fries.
Both poutine and cheese fries can vary in their nutrition profiles depending on portion sizes and specific ingredients used. However, some general comparisons can be made:
In general, cheese fries tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium compared to poutine. Poutine has a bit less fat due to the fresh cheese curds and more carbohydrates from the starchy gravy. Both dishes provide a good amount of protein from the cheese.
Poutine is an iconic dish that is deeply meaningful in Quebec culture. It reflects Quebec’s cultural pride in their unique regional foods. Poutine is served in sit-down restaurants, fast food chains, and roadside snack bars across Quebec. Annual poutine celebrations occur in Quebec such as the Festival de la Poutine in Drummondville.
Cheese fries have spread across the United States through national fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. They are served at ballparks, movie theaters, diners, and backyard barbecues. But cheese fries lack any distinct cultural symbolism and are not specifically associated with any location or event within American culture.
There are many regional variations of poutine found across Quebec including:
- La Sauce brune – Uses beef or veal-based brown sauce
- Le Galvaude – Adds chicken and peas
- La Matambée – Adds bacon and onions
- La Cochonne – Adds sausage and bacon
Cheese fries also have many regional variations across the U.S. including:
- Carne Asada fries – Features guacamole, sour cream, and carne asada meat
- Disco fries – Drenched in brown gravy
- Chili cheese fries – Heaped with chili con carne and cheese
- Poutine fries – Canadian-inspired cheese curds and gravy
Since poutine originated relatively recently in the 1950s, it has not yet spread globally like cheese fries have. Poutine is still mostly found within Quebec and pockets of French Canadian culture.
Cheese fries have spread internationally alongside American fast food chains. Variations like cheesy chips or cheese chippers can be found in countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The core concept of fries and cheese has universal appeal globally.
Poutine Goes Global
While not yet as ubiquitous as cheese fries, poutine has started to spread beyond Quebec to other parts of Canada, the northern United States, and globally. Some factors that have helped poutine expand include:
- Poutine fast food chains expanding like Smoke’s Poutinerie, New York Fries, and La Belle Province
- Celebrity chefs featuring poutine on cooking shows and restaurant menus
- Cultural exposure through Hollywood movies mentioning poutine
- Canadians traveling and explaining poutine abroad as a symbol of Canadian culture
Poutine now can be found in select restaurants in cities like Paris, London, Berlin, and Hong Kong. The global reach of poutine will likely continue growing steadily in coming decades.
Making Both at Home
With some simple ingredients and cooking equipment, cheese fries and poutine can both easily be made at home for family and friends to enjoy. Here is an overview of how to make each dish:
- Potatoes – 2 pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch fries
- Oil – For frying, vegetable or peanut oil
- Cheese curds – Fresh, squeaky 10 ounce package of curds
- Gravy – 2 cups of beef or veal brown gravy, heated
- Heat 3 inches of oil in pot to 300°F and fry potatoes for 5-7 minutes until tender
- Drain fries and let cool slightly before plating
- Place warm fries on plate, add heap of cheese curds, and pour hot gravy over top
Homemade Cheese Fries
- Potatoes – 2 pounds of skinny french fries, fresh or frozen
- Oil – For frying, vegetable or peanut oil
- Cheese – 8 ounces of cheese like cheddar or American, shredded
- Milk – 1/2 cup whole milk
- Butter – 1 tablespoon butter
- Seasonings – 1 teaspoon paprika, salt, and pepper
- Heat oil in pot to 350°F and fry potatoes for 4-5 minutes until crispy
- Melt butter in saucepan, slowly mix in milk and add shredded cheese
- When sauce is smooth, add paprika, salt, and pepper
- Pour cheese sauce over cooked fries and mix gently to coat fries
Poutine and cheese fries are both hearty comfort foods made by topping french fries with cheese and sauce. Poutine has a uniquely Canadian origin and Quebecois cultural importance built around its fresh ingredients like cheese curds and brown gravy. Cheese fries have emerged as an American bar and diner standard thanks to the universal appeal of fries smothered in melted cheese. While poutine has not yet attained the global presence of cheese fries, its popularity is steadily growing beyond Quebec both in Canada and worldwide.