MILK, WATER, MILKFAT, WHEY, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, ALGINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, APOCAROTENAL (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, CHEESE CULTURE MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, ALGINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, APOCAROTENAL (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, CHEESE CULTURE, MILK, WATER, MILKFAT, WHEY, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, CHEESE CULTURE, MILK, WATER, MILKFAT, WHEY, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, ALGINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, APOCAROTENAL (COLOR)
The other day I was craving one of my favorite holiday appetizers: chile con queso (recipe provided at the end of this post). I went to the grocery store in search of the main ingredient, Kraft Velveeta®. Up and down the cheese aisle I went, looking among the cheddars and Colbys.
I found the Kraft slices close to bologna (although no Velveeta loaf). I searched the string cheese, the kosher dills (the kind that need to be refrigerated), the lunch meats. Back and forth I went, past the cream cheeses, sour creams, and French dips. No where could I find the big boxes of Velveeta.
And so I did the only thing I could do. I sent a text message to my sister.
I cant find velveeta at albertsons
Look by the box macaroni and cheeses area
Box macaroni and cheese?? Don’t they keep Velveeta with the other cheeses, in the refrigerated section?
I started toward the pasta and as I wheeled around the corner, there they were. Boxes and boxes of Velveeta, stacked at the end of the aisle like cases of water bottles. I picked one up, turned it over in my hands. What exactly is Velveeta anyway??
Growing up in our house, there was almost always a loaf of Velveeta in process. We kept it in its original box, the open end swaddled as tightly as possible to keep the remaining cheese from drying out. In addition to using it for chile con queso, we always made grilled cheese sandwiches out of the stuff. It melted so well!
In fact, according to the SQUIDOO Food & Cooking blog post Velveeta…Unwrapped, this is the whole reason Velveeta exists.
Simply put, Velveeta melts nicely. I don’t think anyone outside of Kraft knows exactly why, but several possibilities have been suggested. Among them, differences in protein structure, oil content, and a Velveeta block’s own desire to please.
Velveeta seemed to be a central figure in a growing trend of households using processed foods. Shake ‘n Bake, SpaghettiOs, Spam, Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-roni—all made occasional appearances in our house. (Dad especially liked fried Spam sandwiches.) Given that our usual fare was beans and chile, enchiladas, tacos, and tortillas, I kind of liked opening the refrigerator and seeing that loaf of orangeish congealed cheese. It made me feel more like everyone else.
According to the Kraft Velveeta official history site, Kraft introduced Velveeta in 1928, “after several years of research on the nutritive value of whey—a by-product of cheese making.” In 1950, the one-pound “loaf” was introduced to the market, and in 1962, the distinctive oval logo that is still used today. A reduced-calorie “light” version of the cheese came out in 1991, and in 2006, Pepper Jack flavor hit the stores.
Velveeta Unwrapped explains that Velveeta is a “pasteurized processed cheese food.” Pasteurized process cheese foods contain one or more cheeses (which have to make up at least 51% of the total weight), with added dry milk, whey solids, or anhydrous milkfat. The mixture is heated with an emulsifier such as sodium or potassium phosphate. Color and flavoring are added, and then it’s poured into molds to congeal.
And the thing is, it is tasty. It’s creamy and gooey. Slightly sweet. Cheesy, yes, but life would be missing something if Velveeta didn’t exist.
Which is why Velveeta is our Writing Topic.
Think about a time when you remembered Velveeta cheese, um, food. Maybe it wasn’t a specific instance with the cheese, um, food itself, but rather, a time. When life was simpler, processed foods were few and far between, and the idea of a cheese that melted was kind of magical.
Then write for 15 minutes. No stopping, no crossing out. Just write.
A few other helpful links
- Velveeta Unwrapped is an excellent source on Velveeta. Make sure to see the definitions for “cheese food,” “cheese spread,” and “cheese product,” along with a Flickr Velveeta Cheese Gallery and a recipe for Velveeta Fudge. Also check out the poll that lets readers say whether they lose just a smidge of respect for a person who is discovered to eat Velveeta.
- 1950s foods: For foods and brands that were popular in the 1950s
- 1960s foods
- 1970s foods
Chile con Queso
This recipe comes from my Aunt Erma. It’s a little more involved than another approach, which is to throw a loaf of Velveeta and a jar of salsa into a crock pot and let it all melt. I prefer Aunt Erma’s queso.
- A pad of butter
- One or two diced onions
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- A small can of hot chile or jalapeños
- A small can of peeled tomatoes
- A large can of evaporated milk, unsweetened
- A pound of Velveeta
Melt the butter on medium heat in a sauce pan, add the onions and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chile, tomatoes, and Velveeta. You’ll want to cut the cheese into small pieces so that it melts more easily. Add the evaporated milk.
As the cheese melts, stir the ingredients together. The mixture might be soupy at first, but don’t worry—it will thicken as it cools. Don’t let the mixture boil or the cheese might curdle. If making in a crock pot, make sure you keep it on low.
Once the Velveeta is melted and the ingredients blended, the chile con queso is ready. Serve in bowls as a hot dip with tortilla chips. You can also use it to make nachos.
This recipe makes enough for a large party.
(Oh, and if you’re a Velveeta snob, try this version of the recipe: Hold-the-Velveeta Queso.)