When I was a child, I loved American cheese. I loved the way it melted between the golden-brown bread slices in a pan when I made grilled cheese. I loved unwrapping it and eating it plain, relishing that strange, unnatural chewiness that only American cheese possesses. When I went to Friendly’s and was given the choice between American, cheddar and pepperjack, I undoubtedly went with the American cheese. Everything else seemed foreign and repulsive.
But now, having experienced Gruyere, feta, multitudinous goat cheeses, extra sharp cheddar, Camembert, brie, Jarlsberg and many others, I just have to ask: what sick human gave birth to the idea of American cheese? Its floppiness is distressing, the individually plastic-wrapped slices make it terrible for the environment, and it usually appears on the grocery store shelves in a sickly shade of chemical orange. And on top of it all, it’s not even actually cheese.
According to my extensive research, American cheese used to be manufactured from a mix of naturally produced Colby and cheddar cheeses. If you’ve eaten American cheese any time within the last, oh, twenty years or so, you’ll know that this is no longer the case. These days, American cheese is a true chemical concoction and doesn’t even meet the legal criteria for being called “cheese,” so instead needs to be labeled as “processed cheese product” or “processed cheese food.” This might be the worst one I’ve ever seen:
Imitation pasteurized process cheese food?? Seriously? Why would anyone buy something that claims to be an imitation of a processed food? The American consumer mindset is extremely confusing to me.
Anyway, here’s the list of ingredients in Kraft American cheese:
MILK, WHEY, MILK FAT, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SALT, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM CITRATE, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SORBIC ACID AS A PRESERVATIVE, APOCAROTENAL (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, VITAMIN D3, CHEESE CULTURE.
And here’s the list of ingredients in Swiss Gruyere cheese:
The worst of all this is that we seem to be using our marketing power to contaminate the otherwise dignified European cheese culture. Everywhere I go in Germany, I see “Toast Kaese” (“toast cheese”). Well, at least the most disgusting cheese in the supermarket isn’t labeled “American.” And at least they’ve relegated our processed cheese food to a specific culinary arena: toasting it between bread slices (often at music festivals when they’re in need of food that lasts an unnaturally long time in conditions which are less than superb for food preservation). In my opinion, cheese should be more versatile than that. But maybe that’s just me.
UPDATE: I discussed this topic on the train ride home with my friends Brian and Courtney. When I asked, “WHY does anyone buy American cheese?!”, Brian replied, “Because it tastes good on an egg sandwich.” Good point, good point.