The Story Behind American Cheese

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The Story Behind American Cheese
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The Story Behind American Cheese

How much do you know about American cheese? Where did it come from? When did it turn into what we see in the grocery store today? Find out how it became one of the country's most common toppings and sandwich fillers.

Who Invented American Cheese?

American cheese is a descendant of cheddar which the pilgrims were accustomed to making in Europe before their voyage across the Atlantic. Only cheddar could hold up to the American climate, so those new to America adopted the cheese as their own.

Fuel for Debate

In the late 1700s Americans became increasingly proud of their version of cheddar and began exporting it abroad. Meanwhile, the British mocked the cheese, calling it "Yankee Cheese," and believed it to be subpar, especially compared to that that they produced.

What happened next?

According to International Dairy Foods Association, Jesse Williams opened the first cheese factory in New York in 1851 which spurred many more to pop up across the country. Eventually, the American version of cheddar became so common, it was frequently called "yellow cheese" or "store cheese."

Revolutionizing American Cheese

Oddly enough, the person who transformed American cheese into what we see today, was originally from Canada and came to America with only $65 in his pocket. James L. Kraft patented the method for processing cheese in America in 1916, and by 1930, nearly half of the cheese eaten in America was from Kraft. Kraft was the first to debut individually sliced and packaged American cheese to the American public.

Is it as popular today?

Kraft remains America's largest producer of American cheese. In fact, according to History.com, Kraft makes 7.2 billion slices of American cheese each year!

Now that you know its origins, find out more about the classic cheese and its unusual properties.

What is in American Cheese?

Originally, American cheese was typically a blend of cheeses, most commonly colby and cheddar. Today, at its most basic, American cheese is often "a blend of milk, milk fats and solids, with other fats and whey protein concentrates," according to WiseGeek.org.

What makes it different from cheddar cheese?

American cheese is not aged like cheddar cheese. While cheddar is aged for 3 to 8 months, American is processed and takes just 60 to 90 days. Therefore, American is cheaper and has a very different, creamier consistency than hard cheddar cheese.

Why do we use American on grilled cheese and on burgers?

American cheese is known for its melting capabilities. It does not separate when melted like some other cheeses and thus works well on these type of items.

Is American Cheese Healthy?

One slice of American cheese has 96 calories, 5.3 grams of protein and 7.4 grams of fat, according to fatsecret.com.

Are There More Varieties?

American cheese is more than what you see in the grocery store. American cheese can include any cheese produced in America, including artisan varieties from brie to muenster.

How Do We Celebrate America's Cheese-Making Industry?

The American Cheese Society has established October as American Cheese Month, although the organization's focus is on those artisan cheeses made in America as opposed to cheeses that are produced in mass.

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While today you may only think of American cheese as those individually-wrapped packets you find at the grocery store, American cheese has a long history and has had many variations. In fact, the story of American cheese goes all the way back to the arrival of the Mayflower.

When the pilgrims came to America, they brought with them the European culture of cheese-making, but the new climate could not support the production of every type of cheese they ate in Europe. While some European cheeses continued to be made in small amounts, the only one that could really hold up to the East Coast's extreme weather swings was unyielding cheddar. And from this stubborn breed, American cheese was born.

Check out the slideshow above to learn how American cheese came to be what it is today.

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