Keepin’ it Real

By: Elizabeth Akre

We’ve all been known to say things like “My mama taught me ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.” Or, “my mama told me ‘You better shop around’.” Or, in my case, my mama taught me to never, ever, ever buy fake cheese. Fake cheese, you might ask? Yes, it’s true. This culinary abomination does, in fact, exist. And, it’s been duping countless Americans into buying and eating it for decades. Probably most people don’t even realize it.

American cheese is the cheese that has the most imposters surrounding it on our grocery shelves. And, poor lowly American cheese is regarded by many as just that: lowly, unglamorous, the most basic of cheeses. But true, genuine American cheese is really, really good. It’s creamy and melty and gooey, just like cheese is supposed to be.

Cheese

But, walk down the dairy aisle in your grocery store and you’re going to be confronted by a plethora of American cheese choices. WRONG! Tread lightly, my friend. The P.T. Barnums of the cheese world can see you coming from a mile away! Read the packages. You’ll see words like “cheese food” or “cheese product.” This is not cheese.  But keep looking and you’ll finally find the one simply labeled “American cheese.”  If there’s a word after the word cheese, you’re looking into the eyes of a fake.

See, it just says “cheese.”

See, it just says “cheese.”

“Cheese Food”  Yuck!

“Cheese Food” Yuck!

Name brand  “Cheese Product”

Name brand “Cheese Product”

And while I’m bursting your cheese bubble, take a look at that “cheese” in your summer sausage gift basket and in those “Lunchables” that the kids are always begging for. My 7 year old pelts me with pleas for this junk almost every time she’s with me at the grocery store. On the rare occasions that I have acquiesced, she opens it and realizes “oh yeah, this stuff is yucky” and into the dog’s bowl it goes.

Like I mentioned, American cheese really doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Did you know that the super-gooey, cheesy queso you get at most Mexican restaurants is made with white American? It’s true. I have a recipe for it and my daughter and husband think I’m a Mexican rock star when I make it. The majority of cheeseburgers in this country are topped off with American. The original “Chef’s Salad” featured strips of turkey, ham and American cheese. And fancy grilled cheese sandwiches are all fine and good, but nothing can top a good ol’ fashioned grilled American cheese sandwich. Add a bowl of soup and it’s lunchtime Nirvana.

Grilled cheese

You’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love a good macaroni and cheese. I’m a fan and I know I’m not alone here. I love the baked ol’ fashioned kind, fancy lobster mac & cheese, or saucy crockpot mac & cheese. Heck, I’ll even take box macaroni in a pinch. For years though, my mind has always turned to cheddar when it comes to macaroni. The problem with cheddar, however, is that it breaks easily, a cheddar sauce can become grainy in a heartbeat and sometimes it just gets greasy.  But recently, my husband got me thinking about American after he whipped up some mac for the little one. Hmmm. Turns out that if you make a simple roux, add milk to form a béchamel, add some salt, pepper & dry mustard then add a couple slices of American, you get a really delicious, creamy, saucy stovetop version. Who knew?

My latest discovery comes from the U.S. Foods Chef’Store on St. Andrews Road.  You guessed it…huge blocks of cheese!  At my grocery store, 1 lb. of American is roughly $5.00.  At the Chef’Store, I got 5 lbs. for roughly $10.00. The value is clear, right?  I separated it into 3 stacks; wrapped 2 for the freezer and 1 for the fridge. If you haven’t ventured into this place yet, you need to. It is really amazing and the variety of items for sale is mind-boggling. And while you’re in the giant cooler getting your cheese, check out their prices on butter. Oy! Don’t even get me started on fake butter…

Elizabeth Akre is a wife, mom and Realtor® who lives to cook and cooks to live. Her blog, Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef) is where she talks about, reminisces about and occasionally shares recipes for food, glorious food.  Find her on Facebook or Twitter

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