American cheese? Yes, please! (Processed slices in plastic not included)

From Wikipedia:

“Today’s American cheese is generally no longer made from a blend of all-natural cheeses, but instead is manufactured from a set of ingredients[1] such as milk, whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, and salt. When some of these or other substitutes are used, it does not meet the legal definition of cheese in many jurisdictions, and must be labeled as “cheese analog“, “cheese product”, processed cheese, or similar.”

So the American cheese so proudly and patriotically advertised is no longer real cheese -- it’s processed “cheese food”, individually wrapped (a wasteful convenience, which is truly American).

But what about American-made cheeses from states like Wisconsin, Vermont, Oregon and California?

This got me thinking about something I learned last summer while visiting a friend in Oregon. We had the pleasure of touring the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River. The tour guide informed us that the “mash”, or leftover grains from the beer brewing process, are sent to Tillamook Creamery for the dairy cows to eat. Great examples of sustainability and recycling, things that make you proud to be an American cheese-eater (not the sliced kind).

The terroir of cheeses -- in other words, what the cows, sheep and goats are eating that gives each type of cheese its unique characteristics -- is truly fascinating to me. Different layers of flavors blossoming on the tongue, much like wine and beer, are why these things pair naturally.

Have a piece of Tillamook Cheddar and wash it down with a Full Sail Session, and I think you’ll understand. Some things just belong together.

My husband and I often enjoy a summer meal of cheeses, salumi, bread, olives and fruit paired with wine or beer. It’s simple, delicious and is a great excuse to try a wide variety of cheeses.

Which brings me to my point. Do yourself a favor and explore American-made cheeses. It would be best to go to a specialty grocery store, such as Whole Foods or Fresh Market, and sample from their vast array of delightful domestics. Step outside your comfort zone. If you’ve never tried a tangy, crumbly goat’s milk cheddar or smelled the grassy, barnyard-like aroma of a sheep’s milk cheese, you are in for a treat.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog goat cheese from California– crumbly on the outside, creamy in the middle.

  • Maytag Blue from Iowa– a sweet blue.

  • Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar from Vermont- a great sharp cheddar and available in the grocery store.

  • Rouge Creamery’s Smokey Blue ( smoked with Hazelnut shells) from Oregon– great with beer.

Support you local dairy farmer and buy real American cheese.

With all the patriotic revelry that goes on around this time of year, I found myself thinking about what our country does and makes well, and what foods we are best known for (everything turns into food trivia for me), when a commercial for American cheese slices comes on the TV.

How did this happen? How did some over-processed, rubbery flat orange square wrapped in plastic come to represent our country's cheesemaking? I felt ashamed.

I grew up on the stuff, used to love it, but I’m convinced it’s more about the mouthfeel than the taste. In a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s creamy, salty and crispy: a sure-fire combo to please your palate. But is it really cheese at all?

The history of American cheese begins with English settlers making cheddar and shipping it back to England. The British called it American or Yankee cheese. It was inferior in quality but cheap and readily available.


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