Food & Drink

When Did Americans Become Such Snobs About American Cheese?

Published On 12/01/2015 Published On 12/01/2015
Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

It was late 2015, and the Facebook community was responding well to cheesy, gooey things. But one posted video, one video of a deliciously fried grilled cheese donut, inspired the fury of five thousand internet commenters. Behold the video at issue:

"If I was going to do this .. I'd find a better cheese than those packaged cheese slices. yuck. ruining a perfectly good donut," the commenters said. "Why the fake cheese always gotta be used? Y'all too lazy to stop at the deli? Lol," they said. "American cheese? I could maybe get it on board if the recipe called for real cheese.... #gross," THEY SAID. The Thrillist editors were shocked and appalled and agreed a little bit, actually. 

It was only a few short years ago, after all, when Fat Kid Fridays reigned supreme, Epic Meal Time was still funny, and This Is Why You're Fat was important enough to become a book. And though many chefs (and Thrillist editors obsessed with burgers) speak in hushed tones of American cheese's essentialness when it comes to topping burgers, there's undoubtedly been a shift in public perception. So when did we all become such snobs? When did this happen?? Turns out the tide's been turning on American cheese for quite awhile. We must begin at the beginning."

Flickr/Mike Mozart

Let's set the stage: In 1970, the average American ate eight pounds of cheese. By 1975, it was up to 10 pounds. By 1980, it had bumped up to 12. Want to know how many pounds of cheese an average American eats today in 2015? 23 pounds. 23 pounds of cheese.

Of course, just because Americans were eating more cheese over the last few decades doesn't mean it was fancy cheese. But by the 1980s, the U.S. was already looking beyond the processed stuff. In 1983, Dr. Frank Kosikowski founded one of the biggest cheese fan clubs in the country, the American Cheese Society. And these guys were not interested in Velveeta. It was meant to be a "national grassroots organization for cheese appreciation and for home and farm cheesemaking," and by 1985, they'd already established the kind of multi-category competition usually reserved for pure-breed dogs and craft beer.
 

 
It was around this time that Giles Schnierle -- a former chef and food industry consultant -- also began to focus in on cheese distribution and promotion. In the late '80s, he established his first distribution company, Heartland Trading, before ultimately creating his Great American Cheese Collection. The company now represents over 60 small cheesemakers and provides domestic cheese to hundreds of fine dining restaurants in the US. Not bad, Giles.

Flickr/Mike Mozart

Now, you may be thinking, "Sure, some cheese nerds were organizing, but that hardly means everyone was abandoning American for more sophisticated dairy products. That's true! Although this movement existed outside ACS conferences and Schnierle's inner circles.

In 1988, The Sun-Sentinel was already dismissing processed cheese as kids' stuff and breathlessly reporting on domestic chèvres and Camemberts -- and the almost 400 specialty cheesemakers creating them.
 

 
You expect Europeans to write condescending thinkpieces about American cheese that imply we're less cultured than Wallace of Wallace and Gromit, but we now may be almost as snobby as our international counterparts. It's official: Americans have fallen out of love with American cheese. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kristin Hunt is a staff writer for Thrillist, and still can't completely turn her back on American cheese. Follow her to the resistance at @kristin_hunt.

"If I was going to do this .. I'd find a better cheese than those packaged cheese slices. yuck. ruining a perfectly good donut," the commenters said. "Why the fake cheese always gotta be used? Y'all too lazy to stop at the deli? Lol," they said. "American cheese? I could maybe get it on board if the recipe called for real cheese.... #gross," THEY SAID. The Thrillist editors were shocked and appalled and agreed a little bit, actually. 

It was only a few short years ago, after all, when Fat Kid Fridays reigned supreme, Epic Meal Time was still funny, and This Is Why You're Fat was important enough to become a book. And though many chefs (and Thrillist editors obsessed with burgers) speak in hushed tones of American cheese's essentialness when it comes to topping burgers, there's undoubtedly been a shift in public perception. So when did we all become such snobs? When did this happen?? Turns out the tide's been turning on American cheese for quite awhile. We must begin at the beginning.

Clickbait

close

Learn More