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"Good" American Cheese-Does it exist?

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  • Shann May 4, 2010 05:52 AM
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I've slowly come around to eating good cheese; I get the good parm not the shaker kind and eat more of the Vermont artisanal cheese than I used to.

But I admit it, I love american cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches and other regular sandwiches as well. I normally get Land O'Lakes American but I've also tried Cooper brand "sharp" american cheese. The american process "cheese food" like the supermarket brands are basically inedible. Does anyone make a really good american style cheese?

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  1. I also have a weakness for American cheese in grilled cheese sandwiches, and on burgers.
    My go-to is Kraft Deluxe. Not the individually wrapped singles, but the stacked version. It's processed, but not cheese food (the really rubbery stuff that has to be individually wrapped.) Unfortunately, there is no non-processed "American" style cheese--you'd have to resort to a mild cheddar or jack for that, and we both know they don't taste quite right.

    1. I'm no cheese expert, but I think that the term "American cheese" doesn't signify anything apart from the Kraft-slices kind of thing. It is, by definition, a "cheese product" rather than a cheese plain and simple.

      On that note, I do agree that certain foods, like a comfort-food grilled cheese, might simply not call for anything other than Kraft slices. I once went to Zingerman's (famous for cheese) restaurant outlet in Ann Arbor (the Road House) and got a mac & cheese made from English artisanal cheddar. It was horrible, I thought, because the intensity of those cheddars, especially when heated, was simply overpowering. More "flavor" is not always more pleasure.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Bada Bing

        Boars Head brand is allowed to be called cheese and not "cheesefood" or "cheese product". It is my go-to brand of American cheese. Not sure what makes the definition, but they are happy to call themselves real cheese.

        1. re: kimfair1

          Interesting. I'm also not sure when cheese becomes "cheese food product," which is legally what things like Velveeta need to be called in the USA...

          1. re: Bada Bing

            As its name implies, a processed cheese is a cheese that undergoes further treatment. American cheese starts out as a mild cheddar or cheddar/Colby mix to which an emulsifier, additional salt, and sometimes food coloring are added. The whole shebang is processed into a paste, molded into blocks and then cut into uniform slices. The emulsifying agent serves both to extend the product's shelf life and enhance its ability to melt smoothly.

            The FDA has specific definitions for "processed cheese," "cheese product" and similar terms. Look up "processed cheese" in Wikipedia and you'll find them.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              I have always, since I was a little kid, wanted to know how processed cheese got that way. Thank you. :)

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Processe...

                the term "american cheese" is covered under the "Code of Federal Regulations"
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_...

                1. re: cheesemaestro

                  Kraft "Deli Deluxe" is a good American cheese.

                  Mr. Kraft made a fortune selling "processed cheese" to the US military during WWI, coincident with his original patenting of the process of "processed cheese". Basically: take some real cheeses, that are age-able, then grind them, melt them with some milkfat. Aging (perceived as stinkiness) is arrested. Then, The Magic Touch that made the fortune: add some sodium phosphate, sodium citrate, potassium phosphate, tartrate, or citrate, These are called "emulsifying salts", and serve to change the cheese protein strands into a form that can mix both with water and with fat. Thus, they can go into an emulsification that suspends all the cheese components. Thus, they melt without breaking into casein and grease (as in atop a burger), and can blend easily into a wet sauce, (such as a macNcheese sauce). Cheese consumption per capita has jumped from 3 pounds a year to 30 pounds since Kraft's discovery.

                  The more moisture and protein concentrates that the manufacturers add, the more the product steps down the ladder of the FDA definitions: process cheese, then process cheese food, then process cheese food spread. All three of these designations are clearly printed somewhere on the package, distinct from the nutrition info label.

                  So, good American cheese is one rung below grocery-store cheddar, but it's on the top rung of the processed cheeses.

                  Some fun links for those who want to explore this issue perhaps past the mental point of holding the emulsion:

                  2 wikis:
                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Processe...
                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velveeta

                  Travel down the rungs of the ladder with Kraft, from the grocery-store holy grail of Cracker
                  Barrel cheddar, down to Cheese Whiz. Compare the ingredients.
                  http://www.kraftfoods.com/main.aspx?s...
                  http://www.kraftfoods.com/main.aspx?s...
                  http://www.kraftfoods.com/main.aspx?s...
                  http://www.kraftfoods.com/main.aspx?s...

                  1. re: FoodFuser

                    I wonder if there's a chapter on processed cheese in Modernist Cuisine. If Kraft hadn't developed this first, I bet Adria would have.

              2. re: kimfair1

                I looked around a bit and it seems that American Cheese has legal definition as a processed cheese, meaning that it has at least 51% cheese but can have various emulsifiers and whey and colors/flavors added. Cooks Illustrated actually did a taste test of these, and recommended several brands--Sara Lee, Land o'Lakes, and Kraft Deluxe-- and panned two that had lower whey content in the non-cheese part (Kraft singles and Borden). Of course, there are probably folks who crave those Kraft singles as they are...

              3. re: Bada Bing

                Ha ha, I did exactly the same thing! Made homemade mac n cheese with very strong UK cheddar and it was inedible on its own. We had to use it as a cracker topping/sandwich filling.

              4. I agree with you, American cheese has its place. There are better and worse makers - Boar's Head, Land O'Lakes, and Dietz & Watson all have their partisans. Major discussion on the subject here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/658281

                1 Reply
                1. re: BobB

                  Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't realize Boars Head is the devil! When I buy deli meat I try to get the in house roast beef (most deli beef has absolutely no flavor) or Mckenzie ham. For anyone that hasn't tried the Cooper sharp american, it is worth a try.

                2. All my life we ate the land o'lake white american. There is such a difference between it and the processed cheese food that I would call it "good American cheese". Makes great mac and cheese!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: melpy

                    Me too. LOL American, must be white. :-) I can't eat any American cheese that is individually wrapped.

                  2. "Does anyone make a really good american style cheese?"

                    No.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Indirect Heat

                      +1 If it makes people happy, it makes people happy but I think calling that flavorless stuff "American" is a national disgrace.

                      1. re: Indirect Heat

                        Simply not true. See above. Boar's head in particular is good, and there's a brand at Costco which is good as well.

                        1. re: jmckee

                          chaque un a son gout

                      2. Are you able to find Cabot deli cheeses? Their American tastes decent (and they have both white and yellow), but I think Land O'Lakes might have the edge on tastiness. If you're interested, here are Cabot's ingredients:
                        American cheese (Milk, cheese culture, salt and enzymes), water, milkfat, whey protein concentrate, whey, sodium citrate, salt, sorbic acid (preservative), annatto and oleoresin (for color).
                        And Land O'Lakes: Cultured Pasteurized Milk And Skim Milk, Buttermilk, Milkfat, Salt, Contains Less Than 2% of Sodium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Milk Protein Concentrate,Enzymes.

                        1. Land O' Lakes has what they call "Sharp American" and is the only American cheese I buy...strictly for use in grilled cheese sandwiches and the occasional cheeseburger. It melts very nicely and unlike most American cheese, it actually has some flavor.
                          Other than the above product and uses, I am not a fan of American cheese at all...

                          1. Kraft American, in the dark blue package, *not* individually wrapped, is a very good American cheese. Good flavor, not waxy like most American cheeses.

                            1. I just look for a product that says American Cheese; not American Cheese Food; not American Cheese Product; not American Cheese slices (Ugggghhhhhhh)

                              1. Mun-chee cheese. It's a kosher American cheese. Can't find it here in Georgia, so on my visit back to Chicago last month, I made sure to get some to bring home.
                                It's good enough to eat just standing at the kitchen counter while you unpack the rest of the groceries.

                                1. Kraft Deli Deluxe Sharp Cheddar slices. They come in a block of extra thick slices. They are nice and sharp, but melt beautifully. Sometimes hard to find, but so worth it.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: phofiend

                                    The Kraft Deli Deluxe American should satisfy the OP. As I said above, real cheese, nice thick slices, not plastic wrapped, good taste and texture.

                                  2. By coincidence, I was looking at a recipe for homemade american cheese yesterday, it can be seen at http://www.ehow.com/how_2297421_make-...

                                    I'm going to try it pretty soon, might be good.

                                    1. Has anybody tried the Cabot American? I compared it to Land O'Lakes and it is less salty and pretty good.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Shann

                                        I find Cabot in general to be very good, as mass market cheese-makers go.

                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                          I'll echo that. I picked up one of their cheese at Costco last winter and was quite pleased.

                                      2. Kenji and the folks over at Serious Eats did an American cheese taste test:
                                        http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2...

                                        Kraft came in at #2. It is a good read.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: CDouglas

                                          But they did not include ANY of the three "premium" Americans (Boar's Head, Land O'Lakes, and Dietz & Watson) so what good is that?

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            Land O'Lakes came in 4th. Some of the more "premium" American cheeses suffered in texture and meltability.

                                        2. Good or not in this arena is definitely a personal preference but my only pick for good crappy american cheese is New Yorker, has taste and not as much salt comes through. Sold only in 5 lb logs and thus be sliced by deli at supermarket.

                                          1. Kraft Old English was available during the 50's, 60's, 70's in a 2# box, then became available only in a 1# box, and finally, alas, only available as a spread in a jar. Deluxe American is going the same way, until a couple of weeks ago, could get it in a 2# box, now only a 1# box. Hopefully this will not go away. This is in New Mexico.

                                            1. I wonder what people outside of the US consider 'American cheese'. When I saw this thread I thought woohoo, a whole thread on awesome cheeses made in the US. To me, it means cheese. Made in America. But I did have an inkling that Americans use the term to refer only to processed cheese- i'd been mildly confused a few times by an American roommate asking me to get 'American cheese' for cheeseburgers. :)

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: montrealeater

                                                They make processed cheese in Europe, often with a generic gruyere base. Laughing Cow wedges fall in this category.

                                                1. re: montrealeater

                                                  If you're anywhere but USA, and someone asks for American cheese, just grab Kraft Singles. It's probably the best example of the breed.

                                                  1. re: ratbuddy

                                                    Can you get Kraft Deli Deluxe outside the US? That's much better than their plastic-wrapped, horribly waxy Singles?

                                                2. it is still a cheese product, but Horizon organics makes a good version. it tastes "cleaner" than Kraft singles. then again, Land OL is what I grew up on. I will have to ask for that next time I'm at a deli.

                                                  1. I imagine it's regional (Minnesota), but I've always been partial to Bongard's american cheese. No idea how far out they distribute.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Ninevah

                                                      yup. i'd imagine there are similar decent small-producer american cheeses in other dairy areas, but probably not nationally distributed. the dairy threads are quite astonishing though!

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        One I used to get in the Chicago area is Mun-chee cheese. It's a white american style cheese that has the most wonderful taste and texture. I never cooked with it, as it never got any further than hand-to-mouth. Or sometimes in a sandwich, if I could stop nibbling on it long enough to get it between bread.

                                                    2. On the No Reservations Techniques episode (rerun this week), the chef demonstrating a burger explicitly specified American for its melting qualities. And what he used was clearly presliced, though not individually wrapped.