I have long been aware of the need for an effort to be made to defend the use of real cheese in cooking against the eternal enemy – Processed Cheese Slices – however it was brought forcibly to my attention during my mother's recent recuperation from surgery. On Superbowl Sunday, after visiting my mother in the hospital we went to the lounge of a neighbourhood restaurant to catch a few minutes of the game and get a bite to eat. I wasn't overly hungry so I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. It came topped with cheese – or so the menu said. In fact it came with a processed cheese slice, and one that hadn't melted either. The sandwich was damned near inedible and although the processed cheese slice – or as I like to refer to it, the cheese flavoured piece of plastic (CFP) – wasn't entirely to blame, it was a contributing factor. All of which galvanised my resolve that something must be done.
Real Cheese (right) and a "processed Cheese slice."
Which would you rather eat?
But does it make a difference you ask? The answer of course is an emphatic YES! There are notes and highlights in a piece of real cheese that cannot be captured in an over homogenized bit of CFP. Cut a slice of real Cheddar and unwrap some CFP and try them side by side. No comparison, right? That's because the manufacturing process that is responsible for CFP aims at stamping out a product that is consistent and uniform in taste. The first slice of CFP of the year will have the same taste as the last, and that taste must be "inoffensive" with inoffensive presumably being determined by survey groups and people who write letters to manufacturers.
But it is heating the cheese that really shows off the difference. Try it out. Make a grilled cheese sandwich with a piece of CFP. It tastes the same as unheated CFP except that if you're lucky the CFP has melted (if you're not you get my Super Sunday chicken sandwich). Now grate some Cheddar and make a grilled cheese sandwich with Real Cheese. A totally different aroma and flavour emerges. The heating releases the Lirpa and Sloof within the cheese. There's a tang to Real Cheese that doesn't exist with CFP. And it enhances the flavour of meat as well. One of my favourite pubs serves (or served since my brother informs me that they seem to have a new cook who isn't as good as the one whose work I enjoyed in the past) a cheeseburger made with Cheddar sliced from a block. The juices of the beef combined with the cheese in an way that enhances the flavour of both. And don't even get me started on chicken with real Mozzarella.
The Campaign for Real Cheese realises that CFP is more convenient and consistent than Real Cheese, that it reduces costs for restaurants, and avoids complaints from a handful of people who don't like the complexity tastes that real cheese brings to the table. These people are the real danger. They want a product that is so bland and nondescript that it is palatable for the least educated tastes. What they fail to recognise is that by reducing flavour to the level that is acceptable to a portion of the population they are treating everyone as if they have the same uneducated palate. Uniformity and homogeneity aren't desirable, rather they are the enemy of quality. The Campaign for Real Cheese wants a world in which the consumer can order a cheeseburger with real cheese on it or, if someone absolutely insists on having one, a cheeseburger topped with CFP.