In 1885, Colby cheese was invented in Wisconsin by Joseph F. Steinwand, named for the township in which his father had built a cheese factory three years earlier. It is similar to Cheddar, but with some key differences in production. And like Cheddar, it was a hit.
American cheese became a mix of Colby and Cheddar cheese scraps. With the surge in popularity of convenience foods in the 1950s, processed American cheese took off. The Baby Boomer generation grew up eating American cheese sandwiches: with lettuce and tomato, cold cuts or grilled with or without a slice of tomato.
Says Blumer: American cheese became so popular that there were not enough trimmings to satisfy the demand. Cheese makers then shopped the world for any type of cheese they could buy at a cheap price. They would throw this cheap cheese in to the cooker with some cheddar and water to make their American Cheese. Most cheese makers still do this today.
So, American cheese evolved from being quality trimmings of Cheddar and Colby to any cheap cheese that can be processed into a uniform flavor.
THE REBORN AMERICAN CHEESE
There’s hope for everyone who adds a slice of American cheese to a burger, sandwich or omelet.
With Americans’ demands for more wholesome food, domestic Cheddar manufacturers have been making “American cheese” slices from 100% domestic barrel Cheddar.* And if you are making American cheese in Wisconsin, America’s largest cheese-producing state, you are required by law to use only 100% domestic barrel Cheddar in the production of American cheese.
Look for Cheddar slices from Organic Valley, Tillamook and other quality Cheddar producers.
Check out this infographic for the story of what you’re getting today when you buy Cheddar versus American Cheese.
Find more of our favorite cheeses and recipes.
*Barrel cheddar, or Cheddar barrel cheese, is a 500 pound barrels of cheese sold by cheese producers in to other manufacturers.