American Cheese

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DawnT
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2011/03/14 02:12:16 (permalink)

American Cheese

I'm reviving and reportioning some restaurant recipes of the 50's and 60's that I've had the good luck to get some scans of. There's a lot of foodservice products that no longer exist or no longer appear to be the same thing. In some cases, a simple thing like an entry of "grated American cheese" you take for granted and then realize there's a bit of ambiguity of just what it was back then. Searching on the net, there appears to be quite a bit of folks that are asking the same question and the routine answer is substitute mild cheddar. American cheese nowadays appears to imply the processed singles that you find individually wrapped in packages or a Velveta like product called American cheese food. Neither of the major supermarkets carries anything labled as American cheese in the dairy case either in brick form, individual, premium slices or shredded. The deli's carry a white American in blocks. I had to go to a latin market to find a yellow American that I bought a pound and a half of and grated it myself. It wasn't easy and was quite soft. I'm not sure this what I remember as a kid that was called American cheese that had the consistancy of cheddar or colby and quite firm, brittle, and broke easily.
 
In the timeframe of the 50's and 60's, what would a foodservice recipe call American? Was it white or yellow? Was it a firm or soft product? What are these old recipes actually calling for?
#1

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    Foodbme
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 03:20:11 (permalink)
    At the K-12 Schools I attended, They would get Government Surplus American Cheese that was held off the market as part of the dairy industry price support programs. It was the best quality, best tasting Cheese I ever ate! They also gave it out to people who were on Government Assiistance programs. Don't know if they still do. STILL remember those delicious Grilled Cheese Sandwiches!
    #2
    BT
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 04:13:20 (permalink)
    I believe what has changed is not the "cheese" but the labeling laws.  That yellow cheddar-like product now labeled "cheese food" or some such should do just fine for your recipes (and may be the same thing that once would have been called "cheese").  So will a very mild cheddar (see below) unless you need something that will melt smoothly in which case Velveeta may be just what you are looking for.  Many 50s recipes used it and it was invented for the purpose of making smooth cheese sauces (and I recall lots of adds for it on 50s TV and in 50s magazines).
     
    Another thing that has changed since the 50s is the American awareness of and respect for food products from other countries.  "Cheddar" is actually an English cheese.  While we tend to call domestic copies of it "cheddar" nowadays, they probably didn't bother in the 50s since back then most Americans considered American products superior and were happy to buy "American cheese" which was, in reality, a cheddar-style cheese.
     
     
    #3
    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 05:22:35 (permalink)
    When I read your post, I remembered seeing Land O Lakes yellow American in supermarkets here in 5-lb. bricks.  If my memory serves me correctly, it was the Wal-Mart deli.  However, I hope this link may be of help: http://www.landolakesfoodservice.com/products/viewproduct.aspx?p=94
     
    I can't speak to the texture of the above product (firm, soft), because I haven't used it.  I generally buy blocks of cheddar and Monterey Jack.  For small quantities of shredded American, I use Kraft Deli Deluxe American (slices) and grate it in a downward motion (very cold and unseparated) directly out of the refrigerator.  Works beautifully for me, but I'd prefer a solid block any day.
    post edited by MellowRoast - 2011/03/14 05:55:59
    #4
    brisketboy
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 08:39:48 (permalink)
    I also remember the government surplus cheese program. Once a month they would distribute cases of the stuff at the VFW in Chula Vista Ca. along with other foodstuffs. I also remember that it was pretty good stuff.
    #5
    6star
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 10:03:11 (permalink)
    Dawn T, I think I can help you, since I started working in the Dairy department of grocery stores in the 1960s.  Kraft Grated American cheese (the only brand I can remember being available, since it was not really a big seller) came in a small blue cardboard shaker similar to the containers of that time for grated parmesan cheese (which were in green shakers).  The "cheese" inside was a bright yellow dry powder
     
    I think the closest thing available now (which may be the same product re-named) is Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese Topping.  I don't know if this is available at your local grocery store, but here it is on Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Kraft-Macaroni-Cheese-Topping-12CT/dp/B000I60JUW
    #6
    rjb
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 10:08:46 (permalink)
    Among the variations are American cheese product and American cheese food, both of which are permitted to have a higher percentage of "optional dairy ingredients" than American cheese and are also allowed to contain "optional nondairy ingredients" which American cheese doesn't.
     
    Costco's Kirkland brand is American cheese, not cheese product or cheese food. 
    #7
    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 10:15:23 (permalink)
    I freeze the amount of bulk American cheese I need before I grate it. Works like a charm.
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    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 10:38:37 (permalink)
    I didn't even know you could freeze it.  That's good info.
    #9
    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 11:26:27 (permalink)
    Yes, you can freeze just for the purpose of grating.Especially since 90% of the time it goes in something that will be cooked. Does not compromise the quality or consistency. I do not freeze the cheese otherwise.
    #10
    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 12:09:20 (permalink)
    Ann, you're something else.  Thank you.
    #11
    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 12:50:02 (permalink)

    #12
    hatteras04
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 13:01:56 (permalink)
    annpeeples

    I freeze the amount of bulk American cheese I need before I grate it. Works like a charm.

    This is exactly what America's Test Kitchen recommended to do in their Wisconsin Cheddar Beer soup.  It was a mixture of cheddar and american and the american was to be put in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to grate.  I bought a block from the deli (they had yellow and white at Kroger's, I got yellow) and it was easy to grate this way.
    #13
    1bbqboy
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 13:12:41 (permalink)
    Is there a difference or is Yellow just added food coloring?
    #14
    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 13:33:21 (permalink)
    Just added food coloring, bill.
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    Scorereader
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 14:10:29 (permalink)
    American cheese gets a bad wrap. It's soft, creamy and has a lot of uses.
     
    There was a couple from Switzerland checking out various cheeses at the local Harris Teeter some months ago. They were commenting on how some we were tasting were good, like europe, others not so much. Then, they tried some America cheese, which had been cut into cubes for tasting. They loved it. soft, delicate and creamy. It was unique to them. They wanted it in cubes, not slices (as one would usually have for sandwiches.) I asked which wine they'd pair it with...they said, oh, red or white, didn't matter, probably a merlot or syrah, or table white.
     
    Here, in my view, were people who knew good food and wine. Not because they were from europe, but because they spoke intelligently about the foods they were tasting. they didn't know anything about the negative stigma that encircles  american cheese. Not one bit of stuffiness. Not one bit of arrogance. They liked it, they wanted it in cubes to be paired with, I assume, some meats and crackers and wine.
     
    So, since then, I've had a new interest in American cheese. Tasting the good and the bad. And, yeah, there's room for american cheese in my fridge, and occasionally on my hors d'ouvres plate.
    #16
    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 14:16:08 (permalink)
    I eat American cheese all the time, in many ways, shapes and forms.
    #17
    seafarer john
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 14:18:23 (permalink)
    In the '30s there was an inexpensive product called "American Cheese"; it was white or yellow and came in blocks of, I think, 1 lb. I don't remember the sliced product being available until sometime after WWII. A somewhat more expensive,  and much superior, product was  available called "Cheddar cheese", and more commonly known as "Rat Trap Cheese" - it always came in wedges cut from a wheel of the product. As I remember it ranged from white to yellow in color, was more or less crumbly, and ranged from mild to sharp with the whitest being sharpest. Cheddar was never known as "American cheese" - although, I assume that all or most of the cheddar we ate was of domestic origin.  Now-a-days we make cheddar, some of which is every bit as good as the best English cheddar.
     
    At some point after WWII the laws changed and the word "cheese" was dropped from the "American" product - after all, the  stuff never was a real cheese by any stretch of the imagination.
     
    But, cheese or not, I have fond memories of the stuff on grilled cheese sandwiches from the school cafeteria from as recently as the late 1990s. The best ones were allowed to "age" for an hour or two in the cafeteria steam table before being served... 
     
    Cheers, John 
     
    post edited by seafarer john - 2011/03/14 14:21:58
    #18
    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 14:20:05 (permalink)
    It's interesting how Americans poke fun at process cheese, yet it was invented by the Swiss!
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    seafarer john
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 14:33:51 (permalink)
    The industrial processed product we commonly call "American Cheese" was invented here in the USA by a cheesemaker  in Monroe, NY in about 1910. The details of this story were posted right here on Roadfood only a few months ago. Maybe someone with skill enough to wring some information out of our so-called "search" function can find those posts for us. 
     
    Cheers, John 
     
     
    #20
    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 15:19:52 (permalink)
    A book I have credits the Swiss with the invention of "process" cheese at the turn of the century, before any American patents, but I doubt they were referring to American cheese per se.  
    post edited by MellowRoast - 2011/03/14 16:54:38
    #21
    Mosca
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 16:03:09 (permalink)
    Dawn T: "I'm not sure this what I remember as a kid that was called American cheese that had the consistancy of cheddar or colby and quite firm, brittle, and broke easily. "
     
    seafarer john: "A somewhat more expensive,  and much superior, product was  available... it always came in wedges cut from a wheel of the product. As I remember it ranged from white to yellow in color, was more or less crumbly..."
     
    Could this be what we used to call "brick cheese", something you don't see any more? That was either yellow or orange, slightly crumbly and a little milder than a mild cheddar.
     
    And, around here (NE PA) we get a sharp American called Cooper cheese. It's not bad, soft and creamy with a bite.
     
     
     
    #22
    BT
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 16:17:42 (permalink)
    seafarer john
    Cheddar was never known as "American cheese" - although, I assume that all or most of the cheddar we ate was of domestic origin.  Now-a-days we make cheddar, some of which is every bit as good as the best English cheddar. 


     
    The main difference I've noticed--in earlier decades or now--between "American cheese" and domestic supermarket "cheddar" (which is to cheddar as Gallo "Burgundy" is to the French product although there are, indeed, artisanal cheddars produced in the US that are quite good) is that the "cheddar" is "sharper" and the American has a softer, more rubbery texture.  But this may be mostly a matter of aging.  And the mildness of flavor and softness of texture is not necessarily a bad thing if you are looking for a cheese that will melt well and not overwhelm other flavors.
     
    My point, though, is that the dividing line between what is called "cheddar"and what is called "American" varies by manufacturer.  And in the 50's and 60's I really don't recall much, if any, "cheddar" in supermarkets.  What they had besides "American"--and I know this because my Dad loved it--was "sharp cheese" (so labeled).  That was often made in Wisconsin but I don't know if the labeling was a regional thing (Ilived in the DC suburbs).
    post edited by BT - 2011/03/14 16:21:18
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    Rusty246
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 16:47:59 (permalink)
    We called cheese that came from a wheel "hoop" cheese. I miss the days where you could find it on  convenience store counters with a glass cover over it.  You just cut what you wanted, the clerk wrapped it in wax paper.  Good stuff. Was it just us West Virginians??
    #24
    MellowRoast
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 16:51:27 (permalink)
    We had hoop cheese counters in small stores here, too, but for the most part, they're long gone.  That was always a fun purchase. 
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    Ralph Melton
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 18:36:48 (permalink)
    I saw hoop cheese for sale in February in Big Ed's in Raleigh, North Carolina. But I didn't know what it was and had to ask.
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    ann peeples
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/14 19:37:45 (permalink)
    Hoop cheese is alive and well in North Carolina, as Ralph said. Its a nice soft mild cheddar, almost colby-like.It derives it's name from the hoop that holds it after the cheese is poured in there to cool and form.
     
    #27
    chefbuba
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/15 00:59:49 (permalink)
    Dawn, This is what I use on my burgers. It also comes in shreds. This is a premium american cheese product.
    I use it along with other cheeses when I make mac & cheese.
    Has a good flavor and gives that velvet smooth consistency you want in a cheese sauce.
    Not the typical rubbery crap that most american cheeses are.
    It would be similar to the premium american available in the markets.
    #28
    DawnT
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/15 01:30:34 (permalink)
    Bubba, I took a look at the cheddashreds. It might be a good substitute to try and I'm going to check with our supplier to see if we can get it. We made up a batch of the cheese base this afternoon and discovered the finely shredded medium cheddar almost led us to a disaster with scortching the roux as the cheese balled up and we couldn't whisk it manually. Whatever this American cheese product was must have been instantly melting. 
    #29
    pnwchef
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    Re:American Cheese 2011/03/17 08:26:02 (permalink)
    The American cheese I grew up with was white and stiff, sliced at the butcher shop or deli. I went through my order guide a few months ago and saw they offered a white american cheese. The people in the PNW never saw white American cheese, they all buy and use a yellow cheese. I would take the old American white cheese over todays tasteless wonders............
    Dawn, I now melt a shredded cheddar and jack cheese for my home use on burgers and grilled cheese. When it's shredded it melts smooth and stays melted, doesn't get hard. If I had a upscale gourmet burger Restaurant, I would shred my own cheddar and melt over the burgers. There is no comparison to the quality and taste ..................PNWC
    post edited by PNWCHEF - 2011/03/17 08:35:39
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