American Cheese

Posted by Robert on April 5th, 2010

“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese— toasted mostly.”— Robert Louis Stevenson

I live in a house full of cheeseaholics. My wife, 12-year old daughter, and eight-year old son’s palettes are much more refined when it comes to cheese.

The man of the house might be the one getting them to try pork cheeks, grouper throats, and rooster combs, but they are the ones enjoying the cheese course while fine dining, and dipping their French fries into blue cheese dressing in the casual joints. They love all types of cheese.

My palette is pretty dull when it comes to cheese. I like a few boring and lackluster cheeses: Sharp Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, Brie, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Edam. My kids are much more adventurous on the cheese aisle or in a gourmet cheese shop. Though one place I have a leg up in the family cheese wars is with processed cheese.

In addition to gourmet cheeses, they like American cheese, Velveeta, and all of the rogue cousins of cheese food and processed cheese products. When we go to a Mexican restaurant, they automatically order cheese dip, which isn’t really cheese at all, it’s white processed cheese with milk added. I tell them its not real cheese, but they could care less, they love it.

American cheese used to be a blend of real cheeses, but today it is processed and manufactured cheese. I think we need to change that. Wisconsin produces some excellent cheeses; we have hundreds of boutique creameries around the country that produce beautiful chevre (goat’s milk cheese), and assorted varieties of other cheeses. Mississippi State University makes a mean Edam cheese, and Blackberry Farm outside of Knoxville makes an almost perfect sheep’s milk cheese. Certainly one of these cheeses could be adopted as THE American cheese.

The French are masters of cheese; the Italians would argue that point. Swiss cheese is known worldwide, the Dutch, the Germans, even the British have excellent cheeses, but when it comes to branding, American cheese is in the cellar.

Unfortunately, we opt for convenience. Real cheese doesn’t come in pre-packaged slices. Real cheese doesn’t squeeze or come in a can. It can’t be easily melted from a block, and it doesn’t come in a variety of assorted holiday colors.

I’m no food snob. I will admit to eating a grilled cheese sandwich using my kids pre-packaged slices, but only of we are out of cheddar and every other cheese in the house. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson, toasted cheese is worthy of our dreams. But it’s much better using Edam cheese instead of that already shredded cheese that comes in a package that looks like it has some type of powder all over it to keep it from sticking together.

How lazy have we become that we can’t get the grater out of the drawer and shred a little cheese? The cheese aisle at your typical grocery store is full of crappy cheese. My philosophy: Buy real cheese, buy it in block form, or just skip cheese altogether.

We need to adopt another cheese to be THE American cheese. The campaign starts today. Send in your vote.

Five-Cheese Dip

Most hot cheese dips don’t use blue cheese… not the case here. If you don’t like blue cheese, leave it out and step up the amount of one of the other three cheeses.

1 /4 cup unsalted butter
4 Tbl flour
1 /2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 /4 cup red bell pepper, small dice
2 tsp garlic
1 tsp Creole seasoning
1 /2 tsp salt
1 /2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 cup half and half, hot
1 cup chicken broth, hot
1 /2 cup dry sherry
1 /4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 /4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 /2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 /4 cup blue cheese crumbles
1 /4 cup pepper jack cheese, grated
1 Tbl lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 Tbl parsley, chopped fine
1 /4 cup green onions, minced

In a medium sized sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and make a roux. Cook roux five minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Stir in the onion, red bell pepper and garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Using a wire whip, stir in the seasonings, hot milk, broth and sherry. Continue to cook over medium heat for 8-9 minutes, stirring often to prevent mixture from sticking.

Fold in the cheeses and lemon juice and stir until cheeses have melted.

Garnish with the parsley and green onions just before serving.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or crackers for dipping

Yield: 1 quart


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