Thanks to the Atlantic’s concern for our culinary well-being:
After decades of Kraft Singles, more Americans than ever are hungry for artisanal varieties of the past. An Object Lesson.
by LAURA KIESEL
As a child, I was a picky eater. Except when it came to cheese.
I eventually gained an appetite for other foods, but a decision to go vegetarian in my teens made cheese my focal point. It was my guilty pleasure, and one of my sole sources of animal fat and protein. Now, in my late 30s, the kind of cheese I eat today is drastically different from what I ate not even 10 years ago. And I’m far from alone.
Melted cheese—mozzarella on pizza, cheddar on macaroni, Monterey jack in quesadillas—is a prominent part of daily diets worldwide. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans eat an average of 30 pounds of cheese annually. Over a third of that comes from the mozzarella in pizza, while cheddar comes in as a close second. Yet in the past decade, both the domestic and global markets for cheese have begun to shift. Changing consumer concerns has led to more discriminatory tastes in cheese. America is experiencing a collective nostalgia for the cheeses of yesteryear—less processed, farmstead brands that hail from smaller-scale, pasture-based farms rather than the corporate behemoths of industrialized agriculture that currently dominate the market.
Cheese has been around since before written human history, at least since 7,000 years ago. It is generally believed by most food historians that explorers from Asia introduced cheese and cheese-making techniques to the Romans, who in turn passed those practices to the furthest reaches of its Empire, contributing to cheese’s eventual popularity throughout much of Europe. Cheese was already a staple of the British diet, and it was part of the food supplies packed on the Mayflower when the Pilgrims set sail for the New World in 1620. But it would not be until the first cheese factory was built in New York, in 1851, that cheese would become a widespread product in the United States. 30 years later, the nation boasted nearly 4,000 dairy factories and made an estimated 216 million pounds of cheese annually.
In early 20th-century America, a large number of small, diversified farms employed nearly half of the country’s working population. But while the number of U.S. farms has decreased by over 60 percent over the past century, the size of the average farm has increased by 67 percent. A major factor that contributed to this concentration in farm size was the increase in human population and expanded public transportation. As nuclear households shifted toward two-income or single-parent units, Americans developed a taste for convenient processed foods, which heavily impacted their choices in cheese.
For instance, there was the rise of laminated-looking slices of Kraft Singles sheathed in paper-thin plastic wrap and as well as Kraft’s other widely popular product, Velveeta. Packaged like a stick of butter, Velveeta is meant to be melted down to a liquid goop that early advertisements recommended smothering on everything from pasta to peanut butter sandwiches. If that wasn’t convenient enough for a consumer, Kraft also concocted Cheese Whiz. More condiment than food, it could be injected directly into the mouth if desired. Later in the 1970s, Kraft also introduced Polly-O string cheese, a snack-sized stick of low-moisture mozzarella that harried parents could hand off to their kids or stuff in lunch boxes—a treat that was as much fun to shred as to eat…
Read the whole article here.