Sunday, January 22, 2012

Handier, Saltier, Gluey Cheddar Cheese

Admit it!  You love the salty, smooth deliciousness of melted Kraft singles slices clinging neatly to your burgers, whether grilled or sizzled on stove top.  We all do. 

And Kraft singles are so darned convenient. Neatly pre-sliced into  .75 oz, 60-calorie squares, Velveeta slices are sensationally handy for snacking or last-minute quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, or over tortilla chips... without all that messy grating or choosing expensive cheeses. 

Or buying actual cheese at all, since 
Kraft Velveeta Slices don't meet the USDA definition of cheese, or that of any country with official standards to grade good-quality cheese. 

Instead, the artificially-colored orangey slices are  an industrial "pasteurized prepared cheese product," also known as processed cheese. Or government cheese, because processed cheeses are commonly served in public school lunches and included in cartons of municipal food handouts. 

"Processed cheese has several... advantages over unprocessed cheese, including extended shelf-life, resistance to separation when cooked, and uniformity of product. Its production also enjoys significant economic advantages over traditional cheese making processes, most often through the ability to incorporate any of a wide variety of less expensive ingredients.

"The use of emulsifiers in processed cheese results in cheese that melts smoothly when cooked... The emulsifiers, typically sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, tartrate, or citrate, reduce the tendency for tiny fat globules in the cheese to coalesce and pool on the surface of the molten cheese," per Wikipedia

The Kraft Velveeta Slices package here on my desk includes the following ingredients: whey, whey protein concentrate, sodium nitrate, salt, gelatin, lactic acid,sodium phosphate, two color additives, in addition to "milk, water, milkfat, milk protein concentrate."  In plain English, chemicals, stabilizers and hormones to make it:
  • Cheaper.
  • Brighter and more uniform.
  • Last far longer on the market shelf.
OK, so what?  What's the big deal?  Pasteurized prepared food products are fake foods, according to Pediatrician David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston. Highly processed fake foods, always quite low in fiber and ultra-high in sodium (i.e. salt), contribute to the growing U.S. trend of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other health problems.

Sure, Kraft Velveeta Slices are handy, time-saving conveniences.

But does its rubbery blandness really taste more delicious than hearty, rich cheddar cheese? Is its gluey-smooth texture really more satisfying than the real deal? At $4.99 a package, is it really cheaper than the authentic alternative?

I vote NO.   I certainly won't be serving pasteurized prepared cheese products to my two young grandchildren.  That said, I think I'll hide this Kraft package from my husband... :)


  1. Our "all-American" cheese! How disgusting!

  2. Deborah, my first job when I finally got out of school was managing a retail cheese store in 1971, starting a career in the food business that eventually covered fast food and cafeteria dining. Your blog here is on the right track and very needed so keep it up. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say the connection between proper eating and good health is almost a national security issue. We have become the unhealthiest well-fed population on earth thanks to stuff like this. (And I have to admit to my own weakness for junk food as well.)

    The term may have passed by now, but years ago the industry referred to processed cheese as "ribbon products" because they resemble miles of ribbon while being extruded from the equipment. They are then packaged on plastic sheets and wrapped in plastic for convenience which a growing number of informed consumers now regard as carcinogenic.

    Incidentally, those grated and shredded cheeses we get already prepared may be natural products but for convenience are dusted with something to keep them looking fresh and not clumping together in the packages. I think it's talc or something similar, but at our house we use actual knives and hand graters for cheese. And although they are expensive Parmesan, Romano and the other grated cheeses have a much better taste when grated fresh.

  3. Olya, I completely agree: "American" cheese is disgusting.

    John, thanks so much for the encouragement and good words!

  4. I have always despised the taste and texture of this fake cheese. When I see it used in baked macaroni and cheese recipes, it makes my stomach turn. It's revolting stuff, and thank you for explaining why.

  5. I came here because I'm convinced that in the UK they are making fake Mature Cheddar! If you pay less than a certain price for mature cheddar, it's very likely to have a weird chemical taste, a strange texture or face cheese crystals in it that are far too crunchy to be real! Sine maturity in cheese is a consequence of ageing it over a period of time, and they aren't doing that (if they were, there would be no need for fakery) they definitely shouldn't be allowed to call it mature.