The dark side of the Cheese

17 August 2023

Alright, folks. So far, we’ve shown you the best. Raw milk cheeses from pasture-raised animals, artisanal aging, and the utmost expressions of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk.

But when it comes to “cheese,” there are some products which are worthy of special mention for all the wrong reasons, a Styx river where a river of milk flows instead of lava, and those who float within are lost: welcome to the Dark Side of the cheese!

Proshutta or Easy Cheese?

Let’s start with a dish that definitely leaves an impact. For those who view common processed cheese slices with suspicion, check out Proshutta! An ultra-thin round slice of cheese, perfect for stuffing fast-food wraps. But what truly matters is that Proshutta contains delicious cubes of cooked ham. Something that Michael Pollan’s grandmother – who warned against consuming foods with more than five ingredients – would set the supermarket on fire for.

Moving on to a “traditional” cheese. We call it that because Easy Cheese indeed has several years of history behind it. First produced by Nabisco in 1965, it’s still on the market. It’s also known as aerosol cheese, spray cheese, or canned cheese, and it’s essentially a soft cheese spread (milk, water, concentrated whey protein, canola oil, concentrated milk protein, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sorbic acid, sodium alginate, apocarotenal, annatto, cheese culture, and enzymes) packaged in a can and ready to be sprayed into your mouth. It comes in various flavors, including Cheddar and the so-called “American flavor.”

Appetizer

A staple of the industrial cheese world is cheese-flavored corn snacks, the kind that leaves a delightful film of milk and artificial flavors on your fingers. There are many types and shapes, but we want to focus on a particular variety: Mac N’ Cheetos. These aren’t exactly corn snacks; they’re more like breaded macaroni bites filled with cheese spread.

Speaking of cheeses and colors, we’re not necessarily advocating for white cheeses and, in fact, we argue that a yellow cheese indicates a high beta-carotene content, transferred from grass to the cow’s milk. However, we must admit that a cheese like Basiron Pesto leaves us perplexed. It’s a Gouda with a uniform green hue, flavored with basil and garlic. For color enthusiasts, other variants are available, like Basiron Pesto Rosso or Basiron Tricolore, with green peppers, red chili peppers, goat cheese, and even Basiron Lavender… yes, purple! Because we’ve all dreamed of eating a cheese that looks like soap.

Great Cheeses, Great Deceptions

Poor Cheddar. We even recommended it as one of the cheeses to try at Cheese because, in its traditional and original form, it’s now quite rare and produced by only a few English cheesemakers. In its industrial form, however, it’s the most widely consumed cheese in the world, found packaged as sliced cheddar or processed cheese slices and used as an ingredient in numerous preparations. One of them is Cheddar Cheese Popcorn. The packaging claims “Cheddar at its best,” but we have some doubts about that. But Cheddar certainly isn’t the only cheese to face such a tragic fate. Just ask one of Cheese’s official partners, Parmigiano Reggiano, about the many imitations of this great cheese. Despite the fact that authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is produced in a specific area with only raw milk from silage-free-fed cows and without the use of selected starters, Parmesan variations abound worldwide. Among them, we’ve selected Rondelé Peppercorn Parmesan: a delightful “Parmesan-type” cheese made from pasteurized milk, flavored with pepper, and spreadable. Poor Parmigiano Reggiano.

Imitation, processed, education

While seeking out these “oddities,” we couldn’t help but come across many cheese-related recipes from food bloggers and cooking enthusiasts. When it comes to cheese, the advice from many self-proclaimed chefs is to use processed cheese, or alternatively, regular cheese, which is considered a second choice by some. But what exactly is processed cheese? Wikipedia succinctly explains that the invention is attributed to Swiss inventor Walter Gerber in 1911.

It’s a food product based on cheese, but its composition includes other ingredients beyond the classic milk, rennet, and salt. This type of cheese can contain emulsifiers, saturated vegetable oils, extra salt, food colorings, whey, or sugar. The “variety” of flavors and textures isn’t derived from pastures, breeds, milk quality, or the skill of the cheesemaker, but rather from the ability to chemically combine these substances to achieve characteristics that aren’t always guaranteed by natural cheeses, including uniformity and low cost. Many of the cheeses mentioned above belong to this category, but our focus has settled on a particular gadget: the gift box, perfect for your holidays.

But let’s move on. A variant of processed cheese is designed to melt well on pizza while remaining gooey; the common description outlines its undeniable qualities, along with the fact that it hasn’t seen real milk in its life: “an artificial cheese much faster and cheaper to produce than real cheese.” It’s soft and stringy, the ultimate “pizza cheese analogue.” Yum!

Someone, think of the children! For Slow Food, educating young people about food is one of the cornerstones of our work. So you can imagine our joy at seeing the fantastic Macaroni & Cheese in the magnificent shapes of SpongeBob. Mind you, we have nothing against “shaped foods” to help kids with their eating. But we don’t understand why we’re making it easier for them to consume “foods” – let’s say – that are this artificial and synthetic.

THE (B)RIGHT SIDE OF THE CHEESE

Alright. After all the recommendations we’ve made in recent months, we feel we shouldn’t need to underline that none of these “cheeses” will be present at Cheese 2023, of course, and the above information is for entertainment purposes only! As Slow Food we continue to advocate for raw milk cheeses, artisanal products made with real milk from pasture-raised animals, preferably without the addition of selected starters. You can put a tombstone on top of this list, with extra cheese!

by Silvia Ceriani, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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