A Brief History of American Cheese

Geposted von Emilia D'Albero am

When you hear the words "American cheese," the first thing that likely comes to mind is a bright orange plastic-wrapped square. And while they might be the most well-known iteration, they're only a small slice (pun intended) of American cheese history. The United States is a melting pot (perhaps even a fondue) of different cultures (another pun, also intended) and each group of immigrants that arrived brought with them their own cheesemaking knowledge and traditions. And although these recipes have European origins, generations of American cheesemakers have adjusted and tweaked them to be their own.

Perhaps the most established example  is Cheddar, the recipe for which was brought by British immigrants in the 1700s and continued to develop its American identity until it became the first cheese produced in an industrial cheese factory and put all but a few artisan cheddar producers out of business. Small farmstead producers could not match the scale and price at which cheese could be made in large factories, and many operations could no longer sustain themselves. By the 1980s, a group of goat farmers affectionately known as the "Goat Ladies of the 80s" had decided it was time to revive the American cheese movement, and began to fight for artisan cheese's place at (or in this case, on) the table.

As a result of their efforts and the continued dedication of many dairy farmers and cheesemakers, American cheese is now thriving - makers all over the United States are producing world-class award-winning cheese, both influenced by European classics and from their own completely original recipes. This reinterpretation of established recipes with a fresh terroir has helped create some new icons, destined to become household names if they aren't already. Additionally, consumers' desire for more food transparency and sustainability has reinvigorated many smaller cheesemaking operations - in today's economic conditions, a high quality product usually comes with a higher price tag, and eco-conscious cheese lovers understand the importance and value of informed and responsible consumerism.  And while pasteurized process cheese food (aka the aforementioned slices) certainly has a place in that story, there are so many more pages to be written. 

So if you're interested in tasting through some historic American cheese moments, keep reading! We've put together a list of some iconic American cheeses and their European counterparts that provided the inspiration, as well as a list of some true American originals.

And just as domestic cheesemakers have spent years nurturing, preserving, and reimagining historic cheese recipes in the face of industrialization, we encourage you to use Formaticum Cheese Storage Bags & Sheets to help preserve your new discoveries and taste the flavor as the cheesemakers intended. 

Beaufort - Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese (WI)
Goat Crottin - Bijou from Vermont Creamery (VT)
Chabichou - Shabby Shoe from Blakesville Creamery (WI)
Valençay - Bonaparte from Lazy Lady Farm (VT), Sofia from Capriole Farm (IN)
Abondance - Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm (VT)
Vacherin Mont d'Or - Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese (WI), Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm (VT)
Aged Gouda - St. Malachi from The Farm at Doe Run (PA), Sneek Gouda from Frisian Farms (IA), Marieke Gouda Reserve from Penterman Farm (WI), Aged Gouda from Jake's Gouda (NY)
Taleggio - Crema Alpina from High Lawn Farm, Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy (VA), Hooligan from Cato Corner Farm (CT)
Camembert - Camembrie from Blue Ledge Farm (VT), Nancy's Camembert from Old Chatham Creamery (NY)
Ossau Iraty - Anabasque from Landmark Creamery (WI), Verano from Vermont Shepherd (VT)
Robiola - Melinda Mae from Mystic Cheese (CT)
Caerphilly - Carefully from Parish Hill Creamery (VT)
Gruyère - Alpha Tolman from Jasper Hill Farm (VT)
Emmentaler - Holey Cow from Central Coast Creamery (CA), Crybaby from Arethusa Farm (CT)
Stilton - Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Farm (VT), Mad River Blue from Von Trapp Farmstead
Caciocavallo - Suffolk Punch from Parish Hill Creamery (VT)
Morbier - Ashbrook from Spring Brook Farm (VT), Coppinger from Sequatchie Cove Creamery (TN), Smorbier from High Lawn Farm
Queso Oaxaca - Queso Oaxaca from Don Froylan Creamery
Gorgonzola - West West Blue from Parish Hill Creamery
English Clothbound Cheddar - Bleu Mont Cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy (WI), Shelburne Clothbound from Shelburne Farms (VT), Grafton Clothbound Cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese (VT), Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm (VT)
Raclette - Reading Raclette from Springbrook Farm (VT), Mount Raclette from Alpinage Cheese (WI)
Selles-sur-Chere - Bonne Bouche from Vermont Creamery (VT), Linedeline from Blakesville Creamery (WI)
Brie - Moses Sleeper from Jasper Hill Farm (VT), Mt. Alice from Von Trapp Farmstead (VT), Raw Milk Brie from Brush Creek Creamery (ID), Noble Road from Calkins Creamery (VT)
Brillat-Savarin - St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl (NY), Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm (NY), Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery (CA)
Tomme de Savoie - Swallowtail Tomme from Stony Pond Farm (VT)
Parmigiano Reggiano - Big Sky Grana from Bleu Mont Dairy (WI)
Banon - O'Banon from Capriole Farm (IN), Holiday Cheer from Blakesville Creamery (WI), Pecuri in I Vigne from Blakesville Creamery (WI)
Jibneh - Jibneh from Kasbo's Market (NJ) is a unique cheese inspired by cheesemaker Benita's childhood love of Syrian cheese. "Jibneh" means cheese in Arabic and this cheese is described as a cross between mozzarella, feta, and halloumi, but it is flavored with mahleb (a Middle Eastern Spice made from ground cherry stones) and has a wonderful personality all its own.

And if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can ask your cheesemonger for the following American originals, made with unique recipes created entirely by American cheesemakers. 

Cornerstone - perhaps the truest example of an American original, the Cornerstone Project seeks to highlight the nature of raw milk and its expression of terroir. Made by 3 separate cheesemakers, Cornerstone uses grass-fed raw milk, autochthonous cultures, local salt, and a natural aging process to showcase the unique flavors of the micro-environment from which it was born. Each cheesemaker uses their own versions of the aforementioned ingredients and resources, following the same recipe, and the results are vastly different - a true expression of the cheese's terroir. 
Dunbarton Blue and Red Rock from Roelli Cheese Haus (WI) - unique blue cheeses with milder, more isolated blue mold due to pressing, a process not usually done to blue cheese - because p. roqueforti is activated by oxygen, blue cheeses are not usually pressed, in order to allow the mold to grow in the nooks and crannies between the curds, creating the signature blue veining. 
Colby - a cousin of classic Wisconsin Cheddar made by stirring and washing the curds instead of stacking them, which creates a milder flavor. 
Monterey Jack - while there are now several version of jack cheese on the market with different origin stories, this version was invented in the 1700s by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in CA, and later stolen and popularized by shrewd businessman David Jack when he purchased the land the mission was founded on. 
Brick Cheese from Widmer's Cheese (WI) - invented by a Swiss-born cheesemaker in the late 1800s, this is a washed-rind cheese inspired by Limburger that gets its name from the signature shape, but also from the process of using bricks to press the cheese during aging.  

Do you have a favorite American cheese that isn't mentioned here? Email us at hello@formaticum.com to let us know! 

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