With its silky texture, ability to melt and mild flavor, American cheese can do wonders for burgers and grilled cheese. American cheese can make quesadillas really sing, and it long has been a school lunch staple.
Although American cheese may not be part of high class charcuterie platters or coveted by French fromageries, it has its own unique place in the culinary landscape.
According to the online cheese purveyor Cheese.com, American cheese is a semi-soft, processed product made from pasteurized cow’s milk and has a creamy, mild flavor. American cheese can come in yellow or white varieties.
American cheese is made from a mixture of cheeses, including colby and cheddar. Each slice of American cheese today contains less than 51 percent of curds, which means it doesn’t exactly meet the definition of cheese as defined by the Food and Drug Administration. To be a true “cheese,” a product has to be more than 50 percent cheese. American cheese is made from a base of cheese and combined with whey, milk proteins and emulsifying salts. This blend of ingredients helps American cheese melt without breaking or turning greasy the way a traditional cheese does.
According to the resource Serious Eats, the process for making American cheese was invented in Switzerland. In an effort to reduce cheese waste, scraps from various batches of cheese were melted together and formed into a new product. In 1916, Canadian-American cheese salesman James Kraft perfected and patented the technique. He produced and sold the first American cheese.
While American cheese has cheese in it, labels on the American cheese typically sold at the deli counter typically say pasteurized processed cheese. Those individually plastic-wrapped slices sold in the dairy case often go by pasteurized cheese food. The latter has a higher percentage of added ingredients that affect texture and meltability.
While true cheese connoisseurs may scoff at American cheese, the product certainly has had staying power and stands up in many recipes. Although American cheese may not be part of high class charcuterie platters or coveted by French fromageries, it has its own unique place in the culinary landscape.