American Cheese: Neither American, nor Cheese

What’s the difference between:

  • Pasteurised Process Cheese
  • Pasteurised Process Cheese Food
  • Pasteurised Process Cheese Product?

Brings back memories. My Swiss ex-, upon her first exposure to Wonderbread, asked if it was plastic. I have always had the same impression of American cheese product. It really does have physical properties reminiscent of plastic, no?

The eminent philosopher Tom Lehrer also sounded off on the topic in the song It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier:

“Our old mess sergeant’s taste buds had been shot off in the war,
But his savory collations add to our esprit de corps.
To think of all the marvelous ways
They’re using plastics nowadays,
It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier”.


The difference?

  • Pasteurised Process Cheese - foul not-cheese
  • Pasteurised Process Cheese Food - This is what you feed to Pasteurised Process Cheese
  • Pasteurised Process Cheese Product - This is the excretion from the Pasteurised Process Cheese after you feed it the Pasteurised Process Cheese Food.

Pasteurised Process Cheese Food is what it must be called, because it is cheddar cheese that has not been aged in a single chunk. Cheese comes from curdled milk that has been pressed into block, typically 680-720 pounds although it is of course variable. Those blocks are banded using plywood sheets to help them hold together during the aging process, which runs anywhere from 35 to 50 degrees for months.
After the cheese has been aged, it is cut using a wire into 12 oz salable quantities. Unfortunately, not all the cheese survives being cut. The ruins of these blocks get thrown into a vat along with chemicals that soften the cheese. It is then pressed into blocks and sold as “pasturised process cheese food”. Or as we consumers call it, “Velveeta”.

It’s cheddar cheese which the government won’t allow to be called cheddar cheese.

Thank you, government, for saving me from myself.


These are the definitions enforced in the U.S. by the Food and Drug administration as specified in Title 21, Section 133 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as described by Wikipedia

  • Pasteurized process cheese, which is made from one or more cheeses (excluding certain cheeses such as cream cheese and cottage cheese, but including American cheese). In the final product, moisture must not be more than 41 percent of the weight, and fat content not less than 49 percent.
  • Pasteurized process cheese food, which is made from one or more of the cheeses available for pasteurized process cheese composing not less than 51 percent of the final weight, mixed with one or more optional dairy ingredients such as fluid milk or whey, and which may contain one or more specified optional non-dairy ingredients. The final solid form must be less than 44 percent moisture and have a fat content greater than 23 percent.
  • Pasteurized process cheese spread, which is made similarly to pasteurized process cheese food but must be spreadable at 70 °F (21 °C). Moisture must be between 44 and 60 percent of the total weight, and fat content greater than 20 percent.

As I understand this “process cheese” means it’s made of 100% cheese, while “cheese food” and “cheese spread” can be as little as 51% cheese.

After Kraft was zinged by the FDA for some of their products such as wrapped single slices being less than 51% cheese, with a large component being milk protein concentrate (which is not a permitted ingredient for “cheese food”), they removed “process cheese food” from the package and replaced it with “cheese product”. This has no official definition, but as long as it contains at least some cheese, is apparently permitted, and may contain milk protein concentrate, which is less expensive than odd bits of cheese.


The fewer words used, the less Science! involved.


Not always true, I think. In other posts have previously described the relative length of psychiatry textbooks compared to surgery. The former require many words to account for imprecision of the knowledge of the subject, which relies on much subjective interpretation. Surgery texts, by comparison are considerably shorter and, shall we say, incisive. The knowledge is significantly more objective and requires many fewer words to describe.


In the context here (food and food-like products) it often applies. Also, the exclamation mark is important, it makes it an Agatha Heterodyne Mad Science! reference. I knew I should have gone for the all-caps.