Archives for posts with tag: Lord Rumfish

The ubiquitous sandwich slice.

“BLASPHEMER!” the gods of cheese cried (I suppose that would be the French?) as I hit the publish button for this article. I can hardly fault them, since any self-respecting connoisseur would scoff at the idea of giving a serious treatment to the processed cheese industry. I was never one to step down from a challenge though, so here follows my review, in a broadly encompassing way, of American/processed cheese.

First, we need to address the “broadly encompassing” aspect of this review. I have no desire to discuss the nuances of Velveeta for an entire article at this stage of my blog, nor possibly ever unless the company hires me. Yet I could. I could talk to you about Borden vs. Kraft, I could discuss the multitudinous forms of liquid cheese such as Tostito’s White Queso Dip or the industrial version of liquid “cheddar” used on Arby’s Roast Beef and Cheddar. I could discuss the recent trend of processing nearly any extraneous flavor into a new processed cheese, such as onions, habaneros, or even fruit. I could have an entire SERIES of articles about the subject, and it’s one of the subtle joys of being an American: the effects of an industrial revolution on a nation lacking 1000 years of previous historical precedent. That’s another article though. No, I will have to speak in some generalities and hit a few highlights for you, and this article will be far from exhaustive for all of our sakes.

To the cheese! I have heard that some European nations refer to American cheese as “rubber cheese” due to its flexibility, and while I can understand the comparison the texture of our cheese is more akin to a butter cheese than rubber. This makes absolute sense, because the key factor of American and other processed cheese is that they are young cheeses. You will not find a single, solitary processed cheese which has the word “Aged” attached, and if it says “Sharp” it isn’t coming from the age of the cheese. This means processed cheeses initially have a milder flavor, and some of them are left precisely that way.

In my opinion, one of the canonical examples of what you should picture as American cheese is Kraft Singles, individually packaged for sandwiches. If you are a cheese snob you may find it unpalatable, but trust me, there are much, much worse options to represent American cheese (try a slice of government cheese acquired with food stamps if you don’t believe me, some of that almost does have a rubbery texture). I find Kraft Singles to be acceptable when I don’t have a special cheese at hand. You must understand: I LOVE cheese, and this means mediocre cheese is better than bad cheese, while bad is better than none. That said, I might grab a quick snack of a Kraft Single by itself with no accompaniment: it is a palatable cheese. It is buttery, rich, mild, and a little salty.

There is a certain swath of our industry that markets liquid “cheddar” type cheese, and it is almost universally to be avoided. The best of this ilk are cheeses that approach the quality of Velveeta. While you wouldn’t sit and eat a lob of Velveeta by itself – probably – it makes a good accompaniment to dishes such as macaroni and cheese (Velveeta Shells and Cheese is a tasty dish in particular). Velveeta is extremely rich, quite salty, and is stronger than a typical American cheese. However, companies cut corners and don’t use a brand-name product like Velveeta, so you are stuck with whatever knockoff got the lowest bid for their chain of restaurants. Such cheeses are barely palatable when masked by other food, and become downright intolerable when sampled alone. The flavor of a bad liquid “cheddar” is hard to describe: watered-down, chemical, bland, and often with an aftertaste. There are varying degrees of course, as I said, some are closer to Velveeta in flavor.

As an aside here: the concept of liquid cheese is one area processed cheeses have old-fashioned cheeses over a barrel with. There are some specific classic cheeses that melt well, but the list is not that long. Practically every processed cheese can be turned into chip dip or a grilled cheese sandwich if you wish. The ability of processed cheese to so easily conform to another state of matter allows it a niche in some types of cooking and gives a chef looking for creativity in their recipes another tool in their arsenal.

Ultimately, my final assessment is that American/processed cheese is a guilty pleasure. The guilt comes from the knowledge that better cheese exists, and that we support mega corporations with our patronage while slowly stamping out variety. The pleasure is just that: a rich, mild, salty, fatty cheese that melts well into all the comfort foods we love. If you decide to sneak a few Kraft Singles, there will be no judgment coming from me. ^_~

(image courtesy of wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wrapped_American_cheese_slices.jpg)

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Around the House #1: The Last Cookie, or Polite Austerity Measures

Everyone has been at this critical juncture before.

Whether at a simple family gathering, a small party, or just the dinner table, some item of food has become the evening’s entertainment and is quickly disappearing. We’ll go with cookies (in Britain, biscuits). The rapidly diminishing supply has nearly run itself out, and the once-plentiful stockpile has dwindled to a lone survivor, one last bastion of sweet delights before oblivion. Everyone eyes each other nervously, waiting until someone says, “Hey, does anyone else want this last cookie?”

At this point, the headstrong contender has achieved at least partial victory. The others gathered ’round will either lie out of politeness and say, “No, I don’t need any more,” or some brazen and yet-hungry person will say, “Yeah, I’ll eat it if you’re not going to.” While this diminishes the first contender’s victory, what else can the second say when he replies, “Ok, let’s split it in half.” The second contender cannot, in good conscience and politeness, turn down such a magnanimous offer and must be content to only carry off half of the victory after looking like even more of a jerk than the first to speak up.

Yet this is preferable to an uglier turn of events, where those assembled are all so polite that not one soul will take the last cookie for fear of looking like an ill-mannered glutton. Then the last cookie sits, growing colder, drier, and eventually stale as the members of the entourage awkwardly depart, each secretly craving the cookie.

Sometimes the drama is less immediate. It may be a cookie jar, a box of Little Debbie cakes, the last bottle of Ale8-1, or even the last cup of yogurt. The supply is slowly nibbled at over the course of days or even weeks, until finally one is left. Out of politeness, you skip taking it the first time you see one is left, thinking that someone else may appreciate it more. The next day, it still remains. Perhaps the other members of the household haven’t seen it yet. Do you really need the guilt and anguish of knowing you deprived the house of its last tasty offering? You skip it that day as well. You don’t even look in the box the third day, assuming it is empty and someone forgot to throw it away; if not, someone will surely eat it today. On the fourth day, you hesitantly look in the box and note that the item is still there. A moral dilemma now faces you: do you continue to avoid your desired confection/drink/snack out of politeness, or from a purely logical sensibility of pragmatism do you choose to consume it before it goes bad?

Whichever choice you make, ye are surely damned: on the one hand you have Wasted Food if you leave it, and children in some impoverished nation will now starve because of your carelessness and haunt you all the days of your life; yet on the other hand if you take it you have given in to carnal Gluttony for your own selfish gain, and the other members of the household shall surely wail and rend their clothes as they are denied what should have been their rightful inheritance, and soon they shall vow vengeance upon you.

Because of the irrefutable nature of the divine conflict outlined above, this is how I learned to just grab the last cookie the moment I see it and simply assume that no one else wanted it. Life is simpler when you’re eating a cookie.

(photo courtesy of wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_chocolate_chip_cookie.jpeg)

A cheese market in the city of Gouda, Netherlands.

Cheese market in Gouda, Netherlands.

An amateur cheese lover takes a while to age properly in American suburbia. You’ll be exposed to American/processed cheeses soon enough, along with cheddar, monterey jack, colby, swiss, provolone, and perhaps some garnish amounts of parmesan and others. These will all be of varying degrees of quality: you are at the mercy of a megacorporation’s stocking procedures and generally have only a few brands and varieties to choose from. Some stores are better than others (I give Kroger’s the nod over Wal-Mart when it comes to cheese) but none of them specialize in dairy products in the haute couture sense.

Nonetheless, I always knew I loved cheese. It has been a gradual process, and I am leagues away from being a connoisseur, but like any passion you have in life eventually experience adds to your pursuit. Since I enjoy trying new things I’m glad I’m still at the threshold of a world of fine cheeses because I get a lifetime to explore new tastes and textures. To that end, I’m writing this review for some smoked goat gouda I bought from Jungle Jim’s in Ohio. If you also love cheese, then perhaps my words will have some meaning for you.

I haven’t eaten as much gouda as you might expect. Despite my love of cheese, it just isn’t part of the normal lineup at most delis and sub shops in my area, and growing up my parents rarely ever went for offbeat cheeses on grocery store runs (yes, gouda is offbeat in my region). So when I bought smoked goat gouda, I was trying something new for the sake of the experience. Goat cheese is also something I have very little experience with. In fact, I would say the average American might feel that goat cheese sounds rather “gimmicky” because we are so entirely accustomed to the idea of cheese being a product of cow milk. Goat cheese… that’s some sort of hoity-toity novelty item, right? Well, I intended to find out.

Upon arriving back in Kentucky, the first cheese I opened was the aforementioned smoked goat gouda (the wedge’s package said Chevralait, which I assumed was the place of origin). Upon testing it both alone and with various crackers, my friends and I realized we had stumbled upon one of the most appetizing cheeses ever packaged. Imagine for a moment the flavor of bacon: smoky, rich, fatty, delicious. Add to this the softness of a young butter cheese, the inimitable distinct flavor that is cheese, and the faintest aftertaste of some distant pungent flavor (like a bleu cheese) and you have smoked goat gouda. The aftertaste is faint and does not diminish the cheese in any way to my tastes.

I cannot stress enough how intoxicatingly tasty I found smoked goat gouda to be. While “bacon-flavored” isn’t exactly accurate (some bacon has a very sharp or salty tang to it and the cheese is more mild), it comes close. I hope my blog informs your decision about whether to try this magnificent example of cheese on some exploratory shopping trip, and that you had fun reading it.

(image courtesy of wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kaasmarkt2_close.jpg)