Velveeta, After 100 Years Sales Still Remain Strong
As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I’m the oldest of two children born into a very modest, conservative household. Both parents were wonderful, hard working country folks with very simple culinary tastes and very little interest in or funds for food exploration. So, I was well into my teen years before discovering many foods that a number of my constituents took for granted. And so it was with Velveeta.
My first exposure to Velveeta came, I believe, in my junior year of high school when jamming at a friend’s home (yes, like many teens of that era my friends and me had misplaced visions of becoming music stars). My friend’s mom treated us to a snack of Rotel-Velveeta queso and chips. I was hooked! After telling my mom about that delicious dip, she bought a block of Velveeta and whipped up a batch for our family. It was a huge hit with everyone, especially my father who rarely liked trying out new dishes.
Velveeta was invented in 1918 by a Swiss immigrant and employee of New York’s Monroe Cheese Company. While probably the most successful North American cheese maker in the early 1900s, Monroe’s new Pennsylvania factory was incurring a breakout of problems producing its Swiss cheese. Misshaped and broken wheels were problematic and extremely costly since customers would not accept them. Enter Emil Frey, Monroe's in-house cheese wizard, who had previously developed their highly successful Liederkranz cheese, and tasked him with salvaging those damaged wheels by turning them into a sellable prod
Now, one might think that all you have to do is put all those scraps into a large kettle, melt it, mix it and pour it into molds. But you’d be wrong! Normally when cheese is melted you wind up with the fat separating from the solids, creating a rather disgusting mess. Frey, following the findings of two other Swiss researchers, Fritz Settler and Walter Gerber, discovered that when sodium citrate was added to heated cheese the proteins (caseins) then became soluble and resistant to separation. It is this somewhat complicated science that allowed the cheese scraps to be melted and reformed into the now familiar Velveeta bricks.
Shortly after its development, the Monroe company decided this unique new cheese, available both in American and Swiss varieties, should stand on its own so in 1923 the a new corporation was formed—The Velveeta Cheese Company. Four years later Velveeta was sold to Kraft Foods in 1927.
Velveeta, whose name is intended to connote its “velvety smooth” texture, became in 1931 the first cheese product to receive the American Medical Association’s seal of approval, endorsing it as a healthy food, citing it contained all of the nutritional values to "make firm flesh,” making Velveeta a 1930s superfood. Studies done by Rutgers University confirmed the AMA’s findings. But those were the days when doctors endorsed cigarettes, too.
In 1953 Velveeta was reformulated and labeled as “pasteurized process cheese spread.” However in 2002 the FDA declared that since it listed milk protein concentrate (MPC) in its ingredients it could no longer be advertised as cheese spread since it didn’t fit any of their cheese-related definitions. Velveeta is now sold as “pasteurized prepared cheese product,” a term not defined by the FDA.
Today Kraft has expanded the Velveeta line to include Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Velveeta Slices, Velveeta bowls, Velveeta sauces, and Shredded Velveeta, produced in six countries throughout the world. Even after more than one-hundred years Velveeta sales are still going strong and show no signs of abating. So, although cheese connoisseurs may find Velveeta disgusting the rest of us can be assured that our guilty pleasure is going to be with us for years to come.