American cheese is a processed cheese made by combining cheeses like cheddar and Colby and adding other ingredients to help it melt smoothly. It's often sold in individual slices, and is a popular cheese for burgers and sandwiches.
- Made from: Cheddar and/or Colby cheeses
- Aged: 3 months or less
- Color: Orange or white
- Texture: Semi-soft
- Origin: United States
What Is American Cheese?
American cheese is a type of processed cheese with a mild flavor and aroma, usually light orange in color, which is either sold in blocks or in individual slices. It's typically sold at deli counters, under brand names like Boar's Head and Land O'Lakes, where it can be sliced to order. It can also be found at the supermarket with names such as Kraft Deli Deluxe. American cheese is known for its smooth melting ability, which stems from the fact that it contains emulsifiers to help prevent the milk proteins from separating from the milkfat when it's heated.
Is American Cheese Real Cheese?
According to the FDA, American cheese is a "process cheese," a term that covers two types of cheese. One is that it's a cheese that is made by combining two or more types of cheese, such as cheddar and Colby. The second is that it's a cheese to which other ingredients, such as milk proteins, whey, or emulsifiers, have been added. But as long as at least 51 percent of the product is cheese, it's still considered cheese (albeit with the word "process" attached). So American cheese is in fact real cheese. Compare this with Velveeta, which is a similar product, but must be described as a "process cheese food" because it contains less than 51 percent cheese.
American Cheese Vs. "American Slices"
A similar product, which is marketed as "American slices," is often confused with American cheese since the product looks similar. But American slices aren't cheese, and can't use the word "cheese" anywhere in its labeling. The difference is that American slices are made by blending milk proteins with vegetable oil to produce a product that resembles American cheese and has similar melting properties.
Another similar product is basically Velveeta that is formed into individual slices. This product is termed "process American cheese food," as opposed to "process American cheese." Kraft Singles are an example of this product. Basically, if the label says "American cheese slices" or "pasteurized process American cheese," or "processed cheese" (as it's called outside the U.S.), then it's real cheese, but if it just says "singles" or "American slices," or "sandwich slices," it's something else. Likewise, if the first ingredient is "American cheese," it's cheese, but if the first ingredient is milk or water, it's not.
How American Cheese Is Made
To make American cheese, large chunks of cheese, such as cheddar or Colby, are mechanically grated and sent into a vat where it is melted and heated to 165 F. Emulsifying agents are added, along with salt, colorings and spices, and sometimes other ingredients like milk or cream, and the melted mixture is then piped into an extruding machine that produces long sheets of cheese that rapidly cool and solidify.
The sheets are then sliced into ribbons, and the ribbons are then cut into individual slices and then wrapped individually, or stacked into loaves and then packaged, depending on whether it's being sold to retail or foodservice. American cheese is also formed into solid blocks which go to delis, where it can be sliced to order.
Because American cheese a mild, semi-soft cheese, you could substitute something like Monterey Jack or Colby, which are both mild, not aged for very long, and melt relatively well.
The main use for American cheese is in recipes where the cheese needs to be melted, such as cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese omelets, quesadillas, as a topping for chili, french fries, and in casseroles such as macaroni and cheese. Its uniform square slices are designed to make it convenient to add to sandwiches.
If stored in the refrigerator, individually-wrapped slices of American cheese will last for 5 to 6 months. If you buy it sliced at the deli counter, it should last for 2 to 3 weeks, provided you keep it in the deli paper it was wrapped in. It is possible to freeze individually-wrapped American cheese slices for 6 months or more with little loss of quality. If you want to freeze deli American cheese, you might want to wrap the slices individually, first.
American Cheese Recipes
Here are a few recipes featuring American cheese.