I didn’t say that. It came from a Facebook exchange…no more explanation. Yet it got me thinking about this ubiquitous American “food” and the human love for cheese.
There are thousands of cheese varieties on Earth – that’s no exaggeration. France alone certifies over 400 different cheeses. We’ve been making cheese for at least 10,000 years and I’m sure a simple search will produce just as many recipes. Cheese turns highly perishable milk from cows, goats, sheep and buffalo (I’m sure there must be a few other animals…koala?) into products that are preserved for years.
We love its creamy texture, ok parmesan isn’t creamy. If most fastidious, ultra sanitized Americans actually knew what went into cheese over the centuries it most likely would cause the industry’s total collapse, so let’s just make ignorance bliss. Needless to say, we spend billions of dollars on cheeses each year.
Then why in 1911 would a Swiss, Walter Gerber, apply science to create a food – processed cheese? Perhaps Michigan State University has the answer.
“Processed cheese is made from natural cheeses that may vary in degree of sharpness of flavor. Natural cheeses are shredded and heated to a molten mass. The molten mass of protein, water and oil is emulsified during heating with suitable emulsifying salts to produce a stable oil-in-water emulsion. Depending on the desired end use, the melted mixture is then reformed and packaged into blocks, or as slices, or into tubs or jars. Processed cheeses typically cost less than natural cheeses; they have longer shelf-life, and provide for unlimited variety of products.” https://www.msu.edu/~mdr/vol14no2/ustunol.html
Basically if you can make it, why not? Yet it took American marketing savvy to change the perception of cheese for generations of kids. James Kraft was granted a patent for the process in 1916, and in 1927 he purchased the recipe for Velveeta, a cheap and easy food that brought comfort to many during the austere days of the Great Depression. The early 1950’s brought a real revolution with the invention of Cheez Whiz and sliced American Cheese. Processed cheese entered middle class bridge and dinner parties throughout the post-war suburban boom, not to mention millions of lunch boxes.
Yet it wouldn’t be long before science did it again with the 1966 introduction by Nabisco of Snack Mate, Cheez Whiz in an aerosol can (and Spain’s Ferran Adria thought he invented molecular gastronomy). After Nabisco’s merger with Kraft we know this gourmet item as Easy Cheese. (I once had a catering client specifically ask for Easy Cheese on crackers as hors d’oeuvres).
Processed cheese, especially Cheez Whiz, has a fiercely loyal following. Here in Philadelphia there is no more evidence than two monumental debates (1) who invented the Philly Cheese Steak, and (2) is it best with provolone, American Cheese slices or Cheez Whiz. Both Cheez Whiz and Pat’s Steaks seem to win, but please, if you disagree – meaning you buy from his relatives that own Gino’s Steaks across the street, don’t put a contract out on me…
Here’s the recipe for 4 servings from Philadelphia’s Pat’s King of Steaks, 1237 E. Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147-5060 (215) 468-1547
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 16 minutes
- 32 oz. thin sliced rib eye or eye roll steak
- 6 T soya bean oil
- Cheez Whiz, recommended
- 4 crusty Italian rolls
- 1 large Spanish onion
- Optional: sweet green and red peppers sautéed in oil
- Optional: mushrooms sautéed in oil
Heat an iron skillet or a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan and sauté the onions to desired doneness. Remove the onions, then add the remaining oil and sauté the slices of meat quickly on both sides.
While the meat is cooking, melt the Cheez Whiz® in a double boiler or in the microwave. Once the meat is done, place 8 oz. of the meat into the rolls. Add onions, and pour the Cheez Whiz® over top. Garnish with hot or fried sweet peppers, mushrooms and ketchup.
It’s not just Americans that like processed cheese, even the French have The Laughing Cow!
In Canada, Quebec did not create a distinctive processed cheese but came close. Poutine has become a beloved national dish that I have never been able to bring myself to eat. Poutine is traditionally a combination of fresh cheese curds, a light gravy made from chicken, veal or turkey stock poured over hot French fries. What are cheese curds? At the very start of making natural cheese, rennet is combined with warm milk and allowed to rest. Shortly, the milk solids separate from the whey. Those milk solids are the curds. The average person would be most familiar with fresh curds when eating dry cottage cheese or mozzarella. In Canada, fresh packaged cheese curds are available in many grocery stores. For me, it’s the gravy part of poutine that puts me off. So if you want to make poutine, put fresh, hot French fries on a plate, top with the fresh curds and then the hot gravy. Serve immediately.
Whatever you do, please do not put any of this on George Washington’s favorite dessert: (I think it may be a federal crime…)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup molasses 1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup softened butter 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour 9″ square baking pan.
Into large bowl, measure all ingredients except powdered sugar.
With mixer at low speed, beat until blended, constantly scraping bowl. Increase speed to medium and continue beating for 3 minutes.
Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar.
Leave the Cheez Whiz for the kids.