The Ins and Outs of American Cheese

One of the many things the United States has become known for globally over the years is the love for cheese, and it has been an essential part of our diets. Some of the best cheeses come from different parts of the world, but there’s something about American cheese that makes it stand out. It is a types of pasteurized processed cheese, or those we call “American slices” or “American singles”. Let us know more about the ins and outs of American cheese.



History of American Cheese

Most of the early American cheeses were made at home. They were made to be eaten at home, or to be sold in local markets. Even though there was a wide variety of European styles of cheeses persisted in non-commercial cheese making, the American industry practiced on a single type, which is cheddar.

Americans got serious about cheddar and in 1970, they were exporting wheels of it back to England, which is the motherland of the cheese. The trade grew and the revolutionary patriots were proud of their “American cheese”. However, the British connoisseurs looked down on it and judged it inferior to traditional cheeses. That was the reason why American cheese was made cheap.

But in 1851, cheese making in the United States was transformed forever when Jesse Williams created the first American cheese factory in New York. It was a father and son venture where they bought milk from surrounding herds and pooled it to make cheese at one location. Williams was able to make commercial cheese making more viable and American cheese more reliably decent. From New York, cheese factories spread outwards like small pox. In fact, generic factory cheddar became so common that Americans simply called it “store cheese”.

In 1903, James L. Kraft came into the picture. He moved from Canada to Chicago with $65. He bought a horse and wagon and he began wholesaling cheese. With the aim of reducing waste, Kraft tried to package them in cheese jars, until he started experimenting with cheese canning. After that, he tried something different. He shredded refuse cheddar, re-pasteurized it, and mixed some sodium phosphate to it, which is now known as American processed cheese. It was patented in 1916.

The American processed cheese was an immediate commercial success. During the 1930’s, there were over 40% of cheese consumed in the United States from Kraft, even though their cheeses come in a relatively high price. They were able to charge more because of their clever advertising that promised safety and consistency, even though their product came from inferior cheese.

Later on, “natural” cheese makers petitioned to have Kraft’s product formally distinguished from real cheese. The government agreed and they established guidelines for labelling cheese-like products.

For more than a hundred and fifty years, the American cheese moved from farmhouse to factory to laboratory. And from wheels, it turned to waxed blocks to single-serving packets.

Who would’ve known that the generic title, “American cheese”, would be topping on famous burgers such as Big Macs and other grilled cheese sandwiches?

Characteristics of American Cheese

American Cheese

Under the United States Code of Federal Regulations, American cheese is a processed cheese that is created using a blend of milk, milk fats and solids, together with other fats and whey protein concentrate. It is a mild and stable concoction of natural cheese bits mixed with emulsifying agents, to make a homogeneous plastic mass. Its taste and texture vary depending on the percentage of cheese versus additives. Its color can also change from orange, yellow, to white, depending on the food manufacturer’s decision.

And even though it is criticized for its high fat and sodium content, it is still used in regular cooking because it melts well. Plus, it also contains a good amount of calcium and protein. American cheese is sold in three varieties which are in individually wrapped slices, in pre-sliced blocks, and in large blocks. The block American cheese was the only one available before cheese slices were invented, considering it as the “classic” or “traditional” American cheese.

Blended cheese are no longer used, that’s why American cheese cannot be called “cheese”. Instead, it has to be labelled as “processed cheese” or “cheese product”. This is the reason why American cheese is known today as American singles or slices.

American cheese is a great kind of cheese that you can top your burgers, use for cooking, and even serve as a snack alone. There are a lot of fancy cheeses out there, but America cheese is something that you might always crave for.