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American Cheese & Other Nostalgia Foods

American Cheese & Other Nostalgia Foods

As a child, if someone described something as “American cheese” my mind would immediate conjure the image of the square, individually plastic wrapped, flats of bright orange Kraft American singles. Admittedly I didn’t grow up with the most refined tastes and, to my mind, all cheese worth consuming came in this form. Years later, while attending a child’s birthday BBQ, I was saddled with the task of making cheeseburgers for the hungry masses. I have a plate of raw hamburger and a stack of individually wrapped squares of American cheese. Muscle memory kicked in, and within minutes I was unwrapping each slice single-handedly and slapping them on each burger before shoveling them off to their respective awaiting bun. After exhausting the beef supply, I was left with about 8 lonely slices of cheese lacking any purpose. Curiosity got the best of me. I unwrapped a slice and bit off a corner of the orange cheese-like product hoping for a Proustian experience. Instead I got a mouthful of cloying, emulsified, goo that spread over my tongue like a parasite. It was decidedly gross.

But while I am not alone in my distaste for American Singles (Kraft and the various imitations) there are plenty of people out there that still love their cheese heavily processed and packed like linoleum tiles. For instance, Alan Sytsma (writing for Bon Appétit online) just wrote an open love letter to the storied cheese singles, espousing their deliciousness, versatility, and their uniformity. Sytsma admits this version of American cheese tastes “like basically nothing” but he also provides this defense:

“A pack of Kraft Singles is to real cheese what a bottle of Heinz ketchup is to ripe tomatoes, a product that amps up everything a person could want from the source ingredient (acidity and sweetness in the case of tomatoes; gooey, creamy goodness in the case of cheese) while eliminating anything that might be the slightest bit inconvenient (it spoils, it isn’t available all the time, some ripe cheeses smell like gangrenous feet).”

It is difficult to believe than anyone who has tasted real cheese, and is over the age of six, would be so rhapsodic over this “cheese product” made from the following ingredients:

Cheddar cheese, milk, whey, milk fat, milk protein concentrate, salt, calcium phosphate, sodium citrate, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, sorbic acid as a preservative, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color), enzymes, vitamin D3, cheese culture, yellow dye.

But hey, there are those childhood food experiences that just grab us by the taste buds and are exceedingly difficult to shake. Are there other food items that have haunted you since childhood that you still adore? Are American cheese slices one of them?

Related:
The Enduring Appeal of Grilled Cheese
Cheese: The Most Stolen Food in the World?
What Do You Remember from Your Childhood?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

43 comments

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12:53AM PDT on Mar 24, 2013

thanks for sharing

9:47AM PST on Jan 8, 2013

the good old days................................

8:45AM PST on Dec 18, 2012

Thank you

1:05PM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

So this is what a hockey puck looks like after being cross sectioned and colour dyed for the laboratory's electron microscope and study of the toughest material ever to cross the hockey rink!

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

"Percentage of cheddar cheese in that's in this disgusting square." Best joke of the Wee Small Hours, Sue H! Plastic is a better description. Prefer the real cheddar myself and perhaps these orange tiles can be used as frisbees or try constructing a small shed out of them in freezing cold weather. Edible? If one has a death wish perhaps.

If making a grilled cheese sandwich will use real Canadian cheddar cheese and slice it thinly, lovingly placing in on the whole grain bread. Maybe add several fresh herbs, green onions before grilling.

Can't say many foods haunted me from childhood as they were prepared from scratch and were far more healthy back then than a lot of the processed crud available these days. Prefer to continue cooking from scratch with organic ingredients.

Chocolate is a weakness, admittedly but then chocolate is its own food group.

2:56PM PDT on Jul 28, 2012

Thanks.

3:13PM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

I just had an American cheese, beef steak tomato and mayo sandwich on a fresh-baked roll...YUM!

9:11AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

Thanks

8:12PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

The best cheese is in Ireland; they have grass fed cows

12:27AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

I grew up on mac and cheese out of the box. Amazing how that orange powder "tastes" like cheese. Wonder what was in it....also the wax lips, liquid filled tiny wax bottles,powdered koolaid in a straw, cotton candy..Bonamo's Taffy (good for getting rid of wiggly teeth), Sara Lee "cheese cake", Pie-o-my (with the weird colored filling) and a few other things.
Notice how many poisonous products (detergents, etc) are now in "pop" colors of green, purple that attract kids?
It's amazing we have made it through childhood. Hope our grandkids do.

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This video made my day :) Thanks for sharing!

Fortunately no one has asked me that ridiculous question.

When I am on the phone to one of my sister's it's usually a 2 hour call, so I make a point of pacing…

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