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American Cheese: A Delicious History

Behind the Rind

Ever wondered how cheese came to be one of America’s most popular creations? We’re taking a quick look at the long (and tasty!) history of American cheese’s journey from a European import to a building block of our country’s economy and a must-have food staple.

As immigrants from Europe came over to America during the 17th century, they also brought with them knowledge of cheesemaking traditions that had existed in England and the Netherlands for centuries. As settlers landed in New England and the Midwest, they established regional differences in the way cheese was made, with the East Coast being home to variations of English and Irish cheeses like cheddar, whereas the Midwest, especially Wisconsin, became known for Swiss and Alpine varieties, as well as Gouda style cheeses.

During the 1800s, Wisconsin became a hub for cheesemaking pioneers, first using rudimentary tactics, until the advances in industrial technology allowed for the birth of factory-made cheeses, expanding the world of American cheese from something that had been a small family business endeavor into a lucrative product that could be made on a much larger scale.

However, the nuances of regional cheese production and farmstead practices were all but eliminated during the early 1900s, when World Wars, The Great Depression, and further industrial development forced the cheese business to be consolidated and streamlined, bringing us the classic manufactured plastic-wrapped American cheese that you see at the grocery store. For a while, artisanal cheesemaking in the U.S. was at a standstill.

But the 1970s saw a revival in the artisan cheese scene with women and small town farmers working to re-establish a connection with Old World traditions, shifting focus to utilize goat and sheep milk along with cow’s milk. Famed artisanal makers like Vermont Creamery and Cypress Grove began to blend French cheesemaking tactics with their own original recipes and concepts, producing award-winning cheeses like Coupole and Humboldt Fog.

Today, artisanal makers all over the country are constantly re-imagining classic European cheese styles and crafting their own uniquely American creations, which you can explore right here.

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