Is Velveeta Real Cheese? Here's What It's Actually Made Of

Cheese is mysterious on many levels, from medieval monastery cheeses to Tibetan yak curds, Indian paneer, and countless unique cheeses from France and across Europe. America has its own share, with small artisan cheesemakers on the rise, and states like Wisconsin reportedly doling out at least 2 billion pounds of cheese every single year. But ask anyone to name a uniquely American cheese, and it's likely that the ultra-processed cheesy Velveeta gets a mention. It's one of those ever-present, widely distributed, and wildly popular "cheeses" perched on grocery shelves across the nation. But is calling it a cheese even accurate? 

The answer to that is a bit nuanced, but Velveeta in its current form is inherently (and unfortunately) not a real cheese. By the defining standards of the FDA, it's instead classified as a "pasteurized process cheese product." This is a 2002 re-classification from its former grouping amongst items considered "cheese spreads." Earlier still, at its very beginning in 1918, it actually was a genuine cheese, albeit one made from scraps of various cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, and Swiss, plus an emulsifier. Little of that applies in today's version of Velveeta. 

Though Velveeta is no longer an FDA-defined genuine cheese, it does have some similarities, namely pasteurized milk and cheese culture. It also contains whey, canola oil, milk protein concentrate, modified starch, salt and a string of other additives for things like preservation, its bold orange color, and that velvety smooth texture from which its name derives. 

Why Velveeta still gets a lot of love

Regardless of what's on the ingredient list, and despite it being a cheese "product" rather than actual cheese, Velveeta continues to get lots of love. For decades, it's been part of a cherished tradition of making a queso dip with diced Ro*Tel tomatoes and chilies for tailgating parties. The magic is its luscious meltability which, unlike real cheese, doesn't separate when heated. 

Perhaps nostalgia keeps the love lights burning for Velveeta, with its happy-sunshine color and gooey warmth. But Kraft, which bought the Velveeta brand in 1927, keeps things fresh with new incarnations of the longtime American favorite. It now offers a line called Cheesy Bowls with microwavable pasta dishes such as chicken alfredo, bacon mac & cheese, and lasagna with meat and creamy Velveeta sauce. There's also one-pan skillet Velveeta dinner kits, shredded Velveeta, sauce packets, and various new flavors of Velveeta slices for making easy grilled cheese sandwiches and casseroles. 

Those who adore Velveeta in all its faux-cheese glory may or may not embrace the ventures into new territory. But it's likely here to stay, per annual sales. Though Velveeta revenue appeared to be sliding in 2018 and 2019, still holding around the $1 billion mark, it shot up again in 2020. Kraft in its dubious marketing wisdom even introduced a cheese-scented Velveeta nail polish and a Veltini martini created with, you guessed it, cheese-infused vodka. And let's not forget the Velveeta and Compartés Chocolate Truffle collaboration.