Friday, August 11, 2006


Say "Cheese Food!"

When I go shopping for cheese, there are so many varieties, even within the "American cheese" variety. I buy the sliced cheese labeled "American cheese", not "American cheese food" or "American cheese product". Why did these other American cheese require a "food" or "product" qualifier? Is it not cheese?

This curiosity led to Wikipedia research project of the day. Could the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia tell me the difference? Sure enough. It could. All of the American cheeses are processed cheeses. Processed cheese is cheese which has been pasteurized to suspend or kill mold and bacteria, emulsifiers added for consistency, and other ingredients added for color and taste. The varieties of cheese and corresponding labels determine how much actual cheese product is in the well, cheese.
The various definitions are mainly used to distinguish minimum/maximum amounts of cheese ingredient, moisture content, and milkfat.

This helps, but doesn't tell me why I want cheese and not cheese product. An article at the American Chemical Society educated me even further.

  • Pasteurized process cheese food is a variation of process cheese that may have dry milk, whey solids, or anhydrous milkfat added, which reduces the amount of cheese in the finished product. It must contain at least 51% of the cheese ingredient by weight, have a moisture content less than 44%, and have at least 23% milkfat.
  • Pasteurized process cheese spread is a variation on cheese food that may contain a sweetener and a stabilizing agent, such as the polysaccharide xanthan gum or the Irish moss colloid carrageenan, to prevent separation of the ingredients. The cheese must be spreadable at 70 F, contain 44 to 60% moisture, and have at least 20% milkfat.
  • Pasteurized process cheese product is process cheese that doesn't meet the moisture and/or milkfat standards.
  • Imitation cheese is made from vegetable oil; it is less expensive, but also has less flavor and doesn't melt well.

As best I can tell, my cheese should have more cheese content than cheese food or cheese product. The next time I am at the store, I will compare the ingredients list to see what the major ingredients are. If the cheese food is being stuffed with more milk fat, it should have higher fat content. That's my guess. I will never know exactly how much of each ingredient is in the final product though. I do know cheese is more cheese than cheese product. :-)

I guess Wikipedia is correct in saying...
Although this type of American Cheese, along with block American Cheese, are both (technically speaking) processed cheeses, they are considered by many Americans to be the "real" American cheese, to which the individually-wrapped processed "cheese food" and "cheese product" so common today are just pretenders.

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