Unpretentious Wine Pairings: Cheese Product
These cheeses are just being modest.
Sorry, turophile. One day you may find yourself trapped in a big, scary, artisanal food desert. Fear not, for there is a silver lining. Such a scenario presents the perfect opportunity to marvel at human invention as manifest in processed cheese product. Once considered a miracle of modern life (along with canned beans, gelatin, and pressure cookers), processed cheese affords consumers an array of benefits including longer shelf life, fast production, and of course, affordability. Processed cheese is accessible at an entry level price point which fuels both consumption and curiosity; it’s rather like wine that way. The life-long processed cheese aficionado is bound to ponder the virtues of elite fare such as Caciocavallo Podolco, a cheese cultivated from the milk of a rare Italian cow breed that produces its juice during May and June of each year. The cheese retails for $650 per pound. Is it worth it?
Let me know if you find out.
The genesis of cheese product dates back to early twentieth century Switzerland. Two valiant men endeavored to create a cheese that would withstand harsh shipping conditions. Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler simply added sodium citrate to a pot of shredded and heated Emmentaler cheese. The sodium citrate prevents fat and protein from splitting apart under the influence of heat. Miraculously, the fat and protein remain tightly bound during the melting process and successfully firm up when cooled. The sodium citrate (later substituted with other salt-based substances) makes it all possible. Meanwhile, back in the States, James Lewis Kraft was conducting similar experiments. As a teenager he purchased wholesale cheese and expeditiously delivered it to local businesses. Speed was of the essence as his untreated cheeses were always on the verge of spoilage, especially during the warmer months. It was for this reason that Kraft began a lifetime of cheese wizardry. He started by heating cheese to arrest the aging process. By 1916, at the age of twenty-nine, Kraft had filed a patent for processed cheese in the United States. This would be the first of many processed cheese patents secured by Kraft throughout the twentieth century. His legacy lives on in children’s lunchboxes, on hamburger patties, and inside your fridge.
Much like wine regions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States regulates what is defined as processed cheese. In fact, the FDA strictly defines most every type of cheese. In short, processed cheese must be a combination of “one or more cheese of the same or two or more varieties, except cream cheese, neufchatel cheese, cottage cheese, lowfat cottage cheese, cottage cheese dry curd, cook cheese, hard grating cheese, semisoft part-skim cheese, part-skim spiced cheese, and skim milk cheese for manufacturing with an emulsifying agent.” And that’s just the beginning!
Suffice it to say, processed cheese is a testament to the ingenuity and industriousness of the twentieth century. Globally speaking, it’s had a huge impact on our society. Let’s honor this legacy by celebrating processed cheese with a few glasses of wine. So please, put down your Gouda, pick up a glass, and say processed cheers! I mean, cheese.
These pairings do not intend to offend the serious wine drinker. Instead, just picture yourself throwing together a last minute gathering on a Tuesday night at 9pm. The only stores to which you have access are of the convenience variety. Fortunately, you’ve already stashed your wines. Now on to the cheese!
Velveeta with Stella Doro Breadsticks and Brouilly Beaujolais
Thoughts of bubble gum dance through your head as you sip this stellar manifestation of the Gamay grape. Velveeta provides a textural experience that is quite similar to bubble gum, resulting in a sameness that makes the pairing POP! much like an Andy Warhol painting. The Velveeta is best lathered in breadsticks by the iconic Stella D’oro brand, a staple of the East Coast. It all began in 1932 when an immigrant family decided to open an Italian bakery in the Bronx. The company was owned by Kraft for a period of time in the early twenty-first century.
Cheez Whiz Cheddar Blue Cheese with Carr’s Crackers and a Dry Washington Riesling
Carr’s Crackers are bland by design. They will underscore virtually any cheese (no matter how gloppy) or wine in their wake. Cheez Whiz was formulated by a Kraft scientist in the 1950s. Stabilizing ingredients like carrageenan (a seaweed based extract) and xanthan gum (a chemically produced food thickener) give the cheese its unique character. The Riesling’s underpinnings of granite and flint will illuminate the sharp edges of the cheese spread. The entire experience is rather like licking a postage stamp: You think you may have tasted something sweet, but ultimately it was just a functional yet satisfying experience
Kraft Singles with Ritz Crackers and Rombauer Chardonnay
Anchors aweigh! We’re sailing straight into butter bomb territory. All three items in this pairing drip with thick, fatty, sweet oils. Birds of a feather flock together, indeed. Throw down a few pieces of dried fruit (apple, pineapple, cherry, apricot) next to this pairing and voilà! You will have a wonderfully adequate dessert spread.
Easy Cheese with Triscuits and Cavicchiolo Lambrusco
Aerosol cheese is a great conversation piece. It’s also a little bit naughty, like running around with a can of Silly String at a party. But once you break out the Triscuits and a classic bottle of Lambrusco, just about everyone will understand what you’re trying to say: You know your stuff, but don’t need to flaunt it. The multi-dimensional textural play is undeniable in this pairing: Puttied Easy Cheese, crosshatched Triscuits, and vaguely fizzy Lambruso. All three commingle on the palate as Lambruco’s quiet earthiness becomes more obvious at the behest of Easy Cheese and Triscuits.
Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Stuffed Raspberries and Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling
This recipe is adapted from one given to me while visiting the energetic folks at Lava Vine in Napa. Start by purchasing the perfect clamshell of raspberries. Check the bottom of the clamshell. If it’s leaking, or if it’s spotting berry juice, don’t buy it. Next, you will shake the clamshell. Are the berries sticking together? If they are, don’t buy it. You want the berries to be resilient. They should act like tiny bumper cars. Once you have the perfect clamshell, create about twenty tiny clumps of Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss. The clumps should be on the smaller side of a dime. Gently stuff each clump into a raspberry. Don’t be shy, just use your fingers. Once all of your berries are stuffed, simply pour the sweet wine on top and let sit for an hour in the refrigerator. Finally, it will be time to enjoy your multi-faceted berries one by one. Each bite will feel like the laughing cow has jumped over the moon.