Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The To Do List: American Cheese

Have you ever started something, like search for the answer to a question, only to trip onto another adventure altogether, never really having found the answer to the original question you thought you'd find? Okay that does sound more complicated than it needs to be, but that is exactly what happened to me today.

I went online today to print out some articles on cheese, specifically processed or American Cheese. I wanted to find the answer to the question 'What is American Cheese made of?' And apparently others have asked the same question because as I typed it into Google, 'What is American cheese made of' popped right up into the entry line at google.com. More than one person is trying to find answers to what they are eating!

Well I read the usual Wikipedia entries, but they failed to yield anything nefarious, so I kept looking. There were some entries that discussed vaguely what met the 'legal definition of cheese', and that intrigued me. I googled 'what is the legal definition of cheese'. That brought me to answers.com.

They had some fascinating information about American cheese. They state that:

"Processed cheese is...subject to legal restrictions and standards. Processed American Cheese must contain at least 90 percent real cheese. Products labeled "cheese food" must be 51 percent cheese, and most are 65 percent. Products labeled "cheese spread" must also be 51 percent cheese, The difference is that such foods have more water and gums to make them more spreadable. "Cheese Product" usually refers to a diet cheese that has more water and less cheese than American cheese, cheese food or cheese spread, but the specific amount of cheese is not regulated."

Wikipedia also documents that:

"After an FDA warning letter protesting Kraft's use of MPC [milk protein concentrate, an ingredient which does not appear in the above FDA definition of cheese] in late 2002, some varieties of Kraft Singles formerly labeled "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Food" became "Pasteurized Cheese Product", Velveeta went from "Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread" to "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" and Easy Cheese went from "Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread" to "Pasteurized Cheese Snack" "

So as you can see, the company simply changed the name of the commodity after pressure from the FDA that their product did not meet the legal guidelines. They simply changed the name of their commodity to something that is not regulated. But to the American consumer, the regulated term "Cheese Food" does not have a clear definition. So how is that any different from the unregulated term "Cheese Product" or "Cheese snack"? It's not, we can't tell the difference without doing some Internet research.

Answers.com gave me the most reliable information about what American cheese actually was. Apparently one way of making American Processed Cheese was to take remnants of cheese like cheddar or colby, and grind them up into a powder. Then mix the powder with water and other gums and other fillers (no more than 10%!!) and pour the mix into a block to let it set. There, you have American Cheese. I couldn't find what the fillers or gums were specifically. Apparently everyone else is okay enough with this answer that they will eat it.

Anyway, I bought a mild cheddar cheese this weekend (not organic-because I wanted one made by a cheese maker, not a major corporation) and my hope is that Thing 1 won't notice the difference. I kind of don't care if he eats it or not. Cheese is a food that is really high in fat and often salt, and it is a treat in my mind, not something that is a food that you force a kid to eat if he doesn't want to. But I am ditching the processed cheese. Because one of these days I will be happy to say that my son loves really good cheese, not that gloopy slightly orangy stuff that comes individually wrapped in plastic.

But during my research, a light went off in my head. I have wanted to make my own cheese for a while, ever since I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!. And the article in Answers.com got my mind a-racing. I am going to make my own cheese. This is going to be AWESOME!
American Cheese. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.com 17 May, 2010.
Processed Cheese. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.com 17 May, 2010.
Cheese: Definition. Answers.com. 17 May, 2010.


  1. you're my hero. I began with baked good and have mastered my own breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, even crackers and biscuits, but CHEESE? I am so excited to hear how it turns out.

  2. I am impressed that you are making bread and crackers (they are the next major thing on my to do list). If you have some good cracker recipes I would love them! Crackers are currently the scariest thing in my pantry what with all the additives they put in them.
    It is going to take me some time to make the cheese, as I have to source the rennet, which I believe I can do online. But I'll keep you posted. I am sooooooo excited!

  3. I don't eat American Cheese; I've never liked it. However, my mother makes a casserole that I wanted to make which calls for American & so one day I was forced to buy it. Luckily I came across Horizon Organics American slices. Totally worked & totally not scary.

    Also, you can get rennet, I think, at Brooklyn Kitchen Labs

  4. Thanks Joe--That is a project for this weekend!