Modern American cheese is a type of processed cheese developed in the 1910s made from cheddar, Colby, or similar cheeses. It is mild with a creamy and salty flavor, has a medium-firm consistency, and has a low
melting point The melting point (or, rarely, liquefaction point) of a substance is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance dep ...
. It is typically yellow or white in color; yellow American cheese is seasoned and colored with
annatto Annatto ( or ) is an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree ('' Bixa orellana''), native to tropical America. It is often used to impart a yellow or orange color to foods, but sometimes also for its fl ...


British colonists made cheddar cheese soon after their arrival in North America. By 1790, American-made cheddars were being exported back to England. According to Robert Carlton Brown, author of ''The Complete Book of Cheese'', what was known in America as ''yellow cheese'' or ''store cheese'' was known as American cheddar or ''Yankee cheddar'' back in England."The English called our imitation Yankee, or American, Cheddar, while here at home it was popularly known as yellow or store cheese". Robert Carlton Brown
''The Complete Book of Cheese''
(New York: Programmer Publishing Company, 1955). Republished in 2006: "Bob" Brown, ''The Complete Book of Cheese'' (Echo Library, 2006).
The ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a co ...
'' lists the first known usage of "American cheese" as occurring in the
Frankfort, Kentucky Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, United States, and the seat of Franklin County. It is a home rule-class city; the population was 28,602 at the 2020 census. Located along the Kentucky River, Frankfort is the pri ...
, newspaper '' The Guardian of Freedom'' in 1804. After patenting a new method for manufacturing processed cheese in 1916, James L. Kraft began marketing it in the late 1910s, and the term "American cheese" rapidly began to refer to the processed variety instead of the traditional but more expensive cheddars also made and sold in the U.S.

Legal definitions

According to the Standards of Identity for Dairy Products, part of the U.S.
Code of Federal Regulations In the law of the United States, the ''Code of Federal Regulations'' (''CFR'') is the codification of the general and permanent regulations promulgated by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States. ...
(CFR), to be labeled "American cheese" a processed cheese is required to be manufactured from cheddar cheese, colby cheese, washed curd cheese, or granular cheese, or any mixture of two or more of these.US
Code of Federal Regulations In the law of the United States, the ''Code of Federal Regulations'' (''CFR'') is the codification of the general and permanent regulations promulgated by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States. ...
Title 21 (Food and Drugs), Subchapter B, Part 133, Section 169-173 (Pasteurized processed cheese), the allowed usage of the term "American cheese" for certain types of "pasteurized process cheese" is detailed.
The CFR also includes regulations for the manufacturing of processed American cheese. Because its manufacturing process differs from traditional cheeses, federal laws mandate that it be labeled as "pasteurized process American cheese" if made from combining more than one cheese or "pasteurized process American cheese food" if it contains at least 51% cheese but other specific dairy ingredients such as
cream Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, eventually rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream, this process ...
milk Milk is a white liquid food produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals (including breastfed human infants) before they are able to digest solid food. Immune factors and immune-modula ...
, skim milk,
buttermilk Buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink. Traditionally, it was the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cultured cream. As most modern butter in western countries is not made with cultured cream but uncultured sweet cream, most mod ...
, cheese
whey Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacturing of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Sweet whey is a byproduct resulting from the manufacture of rennet types of hard c ...
, or
albumin Albumin is a family of globular proteins, the most common of which are the serum albumins. All the proteins of the albumin family are water- soluble, moderately soluble in concentrated salt solutions, and experience heat denaturation. Albumi ...
from cheese whey are added. Products that have other added ingredients, such as Kraft Singles that contain milk protein concentrate, use legally unregulated terms such as "pasteurized prepared cheese product".

Manufacturing process

Traditional cheese is ground, combined with emulsifying agents and other ingredients, mixed and heated until it forms a "melted homogeneous" mixture. To pasteurize it, the cheese mixture must be heated to a temperature of at least for a minimum of 30 seconds. Composition requirements of processed American cheese control the percentage of milkfat, moisture, salt and pH value in the final product, along with specifications for flavor, body and texture, color, and meltability. Processed American cheese is packaged in individually wrapped slices, as unwrapped slices sold in stacks, or in unsliced blocks. Individually wrapped slices are formed from processed cheese which solidifies only between the wrapping medium; these slices, sold as 'singles', are typically the least like traditional cheese. Blocks of American cheese are more similar to traditional cheese, and are sliced to order at deli counters.

Market size

Americans purchased about $2.77 billion worth of American cheese in 2018, but the popularity was falling, and, according to
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, sales were projected to drop 1.6% in 2018. The average price for a pound of American cheese was below $4 () for the first time since 2011.

See also

* Government cheese * List of cheeses *
List of dairy products This is a list of dairy products. A dairy product is food produced from the milk of mammals. A production plant for the processing of milk is called a dairy or a dairy factory. Dairy farming is a class of agricultural, or an animal husbandry, ente ...


Further reading

''Making American cheese on the farm for home consumption''
Farmers' Bulletin No. 1734, U.S. Department of Agriculture, October 1934. Hosted at University of North Texas Government Documents Department.
''An American-type cheese: how to make it for home use''
Farmers' Bulletin No. 2075, U.S. Department of Agriculture, October 1954. {{American cheeses American cheeses Processed cheese