Velveeta is a popular brand of processed cheese product with a soft, springy consistency, mild flavor, and distinctive orange color. One of its key characteristics is its ability to melt smoothly, without separating or clumping.
- Invented in 1918
- Fat content of 18 percent
- Superb melting ability
What Is Velveeta Cheese?
Velveeta is a cheese product, made by the Kraft Foods company, which consists of a blend of cheese and other dairy products along with emulsifying salts. These emulsifiers both hold the product together and also assist in smooth melting. When an ordinary high-fat cheese such as cheddar is heated, it quickly separates into coagulated strands of protein surrounded by pools of fat. But the emulsifiers in Velveeta ensure that when it melts, it holds together and retains its smooth consistency.
This structure also extends the product's shelf life, which is why blocks of Velveeta can be found on the regular supermarket shelves, not in the refrigerated section.
First invented in the early 1900s as a way of extending the shelf life of cheese, Velveeta became popular in the 1930s.
Is Velveeta Real Cheese?
According to the FDA, Velveeta is technically not real cheese, but rather, a "processed cheese product," although the regulations state that it must contain at least 51 percent cheese, as well as prescribing the minimum moisture content, fat content and the temperature (at least 70 F) at which is must be spreadable.
How Velveeta Is Made
The original process for making Velveeta involved blending tiny bits of various cheeses, including cheddar, Colby and Swiss, along with an emulsifier. Today, the process is different in that instead of starting with bits of cheese, it is made from pasteurized milk, along with whey, emulsifiers and salt. The emulsifiers basically weaken the molecular bonds that hold the milk proteins together, producing a cheeselike product with a springy consistency that allows the product to hold together when it melts.
Since the key characteristic of Velveeta is its smooth melting quality, if you're looking to substitute something else for Velveeta, it will have to be something that melts just as well. And to some extent, this depends on what you're using it for. If you're making a queso dip, substituting ordinary cheddar cheese will produce a stringy mess. But if you're just looking to substitute it in a casserole or mac and cheese recipe, you'll have an easier time. In terms of flavor, Velveeta is mild, so its closest relative is probably American cheese, which you can purchase in packages of individually wrapped slices, or at the deli counter under such brands as Boar's Head and Land O'Lakes.
Cheez-Whiz is another product with similar properties, although it comes in a can or a jar rather than a block or in slices.
Velveeta is typically used in recipes where it's important for the cheese to melt and melt smoothly. The main example of this is in cheese dips, such as the traditional Tex-Mex dish chile con queso dip, made by combining Velveeta with Ro-Tel, a brand of canned tomatoes with diced chiles.
Mac and cheese is another dish that benefits from the supurb melting property of Velveeta, since the cheese sauce not only needs to hold together when melted, rather than separating, but must be able to evenly coat the macaroni as well.
Velveeta in used in a wide variety of other dishes, such as stuffed peppers (aka "poppers"), casseroles, soups, and even fudge. Because it's sold in a solid block, it can be shredded, cubed or melted in the microwave. Shredding it would make it particularly perfect for making grilled cheese sandwiches.
Velveeta is shelf-stable, so unopened packages can safely be stored in a cool, dry place up until the date stamped on the package. Once opened, Velveeta should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated, where it will keep for up to 8 weeks.
Because it melts so smoothly, you can use Velveeta in any number of cooked dishes. The corn bread recipe below calls for shredded cheese, but you can substitute Velveeta.