american cheese bagel

You will find it on white bread bologna sandwiches in lunch boxes, melting on the top of hamburgers and oozing throughout bowls of macaroni and cheese all over the country – however what we know and love in this country as “American Cheese” is neither American nor cheese.

Look closely at the label on your orange slices of American cheese and you will see that the word “cheese” only appears in the tag: processed cheese product.

Processed cheese product was invented in Switzerland in 1911 by Walter Gerber. However, a very smart man named James L. Kraft grabbed the American patent for the processing method, and it was his company that created the first commercially available sliced “American” cheese singles, which hit the market in the 1950s.

Although Kraft was criticized for using marketing tricks to sell second-rate cheese as a first-rate product, it worked. Americans sacrificed the taste and quality of their cheese in favor of convenience, a growing trend that would play out over and over in the country as quantity and ease became more important that anything else in many Americans’ diets.

Cheaper than real cheese, easy melting and with a much longer shelf-life, processed cheese product became popular and soon was to be found on dinner tables all over the country, so much so that it became known as “American cheese.” Today, most of us have eaten our fair share of those orange slices in convenient plastic packages, not to mention Cheez Whiz and Velveeta.

But if American cheese isn’t cheese… then what is it?

Processed cheese product or “cheese food” is made from cheese as well as unfermented dairy products, emulsifiers (stabilizers – usually sodium phosphate, tartrate or citrate), salt, food coloring and whey (milk plasma). Most varieties cannot legally be labeled “cheese” because of the high amount of additives. Real cheese has a lower moisture content and contains more milk fat.

Whether it comes in a block or a spray can, processed cheese product is known for its bland, inferior taste, chemical preservatives, artificial colors and trans-fats. A laughable product in most other countries, for some reason in America this weak-tasting artificial cheese-like food product seems to fit the palates of many.

While real cheese is no champion on the healthy side of the diet chart, at least it is free from the chemical additives and artificial flavors and colors found in many types of processed cheese.

Despite the sad trend towards food products instead of food in America over the past few decades, consumers are finally waking up to the fact that the quality of food might be more important that the quantity that you can buy. While budget concerns are ripe for many these days, the true cost of eating “foodstuffs” instead of food is impossible to measure not only on your waistline, but on your future health as well.

If “you are what you eat,” do you really want to be a processed product, and a “cheese” one at that?

Your body and your loved ones deserve real food. The next time you’re at the grocery store and you reach for an easy package of cheese product for your family’s lunches, opt for real cheese instead. Test yourself and you will see that one bite of real Wisconsin cheddar is far more satisfying and delicious than five slices of cheese-like product.

Here’s How to Host an Ooey Gooey Grilled Cheese Party sans the faux stuff. Or how about a Fondue Mac & Cheese Recipe?

Further reading:

http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/

http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2001/1/2001_1_8.shtml

http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7806sci2.html

image: Kasia/flickr