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?