DIY: American Cheese
I love Gruyere, Brie and all of those fancy cheeses just as much as the next person, but there will always be a special little place in my taste buds for American cheese. As most kids do around these parts, I grew up on grilled cheese sandwiches that were made with smooth, creamy, and super-melty American cheese. By and large, any lunchmeat-and-cheese sandwich I ate included American cheese. To this day, I adore a bologna and American cheese sandwich with mayonnaise and sliced tomato on fresh Italian bread. Some flavors just can’t be replaced, and American cheese is one of them for me.
American cheese is a “processed cheese”, which means that it’s a cheese that started as another already-made cheese and is then further modified to make it creamier and more melt-y (for lack of a better word). What I didn’t realize, however, is that this is how American cheese was traditionally made, usually starting with Colby or Cheddar; however, now it typically doesn’t even start with real cheese. What?! The ingredient list is compiled of things like milk, whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate and salt. A little less appetizing, right? I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I saw American Cheese in the list of recipes in the new DIY Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen (the same book that produced the homemade torrone) – I immediately bookmarked it and planned to make it after the holidays. Thus, here we are!
I was seriously stunned when I realized how incredibly easy it was to create my own American cheese, right there in my kitchen, in less than 15 minutes! The process begins with Colby cheese, then some dry milk powder, whole milk and gelatin are added to the mix (be sure to see the note below on dry milk powder). The combination gives the cheese that super creamy texture, as well as the properties it needs to melt exceptionally well.
The ability to melt supremely well is very important when it comes to such things as grilled cheese sandwiches. Very important. This cheese passed the test with flying colors. I’ll definitely be keeping a block of it in the refrigerator at all times!
Homemade American Cheese
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
- 1 tablespoon water
- 12 ounces (340.2 g) Colby cheese, shredded fine (about 3 cups)
- 1 tablespoon whole dry milk powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon (0.13 teaspoon) cream of tartar
- ½ cup (122 ml) + 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1. Line a 5x4-inch disposable aluminum loaf pan with plastic wrap, using enough so that excess hangs over the sides.
- 2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small cup and let sit until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.
- 3. Meanwhile, pulse together the shredded cheese, dry milk powder, salt and cream of tartar in a food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.
- 4. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the softened gelatin until it is completely dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
- 5. Turn the food processor on so it is running, then slowly add the hot milk mixture to the cheese mixture until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- 6. Immediately transfer the cheese to the prepared pan. Working quickly, pack the cheese firmly into the loaf pan to eliminate most air pockets, then smooth the top. Fold the overhanging plastic tightly against the surface of the cheese and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. The cheese can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 month.