“American cheese is the best cheese for a cheeseburger because it melts without splitting.”
That’s what the creepy chef in The Menu says, and he’s right. Yet a lot of people hate it, many of whom argue that it’s not even really cheese.
So, what is it then?
Per Serious Eats, cheese — often a colby and cheddar blend — and other ingredients, such as cream, water, or oil. The key is an emulsifying salt, like sodium citrate, because that’s what makes it gooey.
- Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler of Switzerland first mixed shredded Emmenthal with sodium citrate for a better melt in 1911.
- Meanwhile, Canadian-American entrepreneur James Kraft was perfecting his own version in the hopes of extending its shelf life. He patented it in 1916.
The end result is what the FDA calls “pasteurized process American cheese” (Kraft Singles are a “pasteurized prepared cheese product” due to extra ingredients).
In the last decade…
… sales of American cheese have staggered as millennial consumers moved away from the processed foods of their youths.
Chef Eric Greenspan, author of The Great Grilled Cheese Book, told Eater that processed cheese’s quality has also decreased due to attempts to make it last even longer.
Greenspan co-founded New School to make a better American cheese with as few ingredients as possible. It contains aged cheddar, cream, butter, sodium citrate, salt, paprika, and turmeric — and took five years to perfect.
Naturally, that left us with one option
A cheese experiment. I made a Kraft Singles grilled cheese, then ordered another from Bub & Grandma’s, an LA cafe using New School’s cheese.
Kraft tasted like childhood. New School tasted more like real cheddar, but with that extra meltiness. Truthfully? I’d be happy with either, but purists may prefer the latter. Unfortunately, it’s only available in NYC and LA for now.
Or?: Bon Appetit writer Alyse Whitney suggests Cooper, a sharp American deli cheese with a secret recipe dating back to 1890. You can buy that one online.