The Surprising Place American Cheese Is Actually From

It's easy to assume American cheese is from the U.S. Not only does it say so in the name, but it also bears a striking resemblance in color to Cheez Whiz and powdered mac and cheese, both of which are quintessentially American. It might make sense for yet another processed cheese product to be American, but the truth is that American cheese actually originated in Switzerland (via AllRecipes). 

In fact, in the original recipe for what later became known as American cheese, the main ingredient was Swiss cheese, Emmentaler to be specific. It was back in 1911 when Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler first developed processed cheese by heating shredded Emmentaler with sodium citrate. Shortly after this breakthrough, Kraft American cheese came about. 

Former grocery store owner turned entrepreneur James L. Kraft developed his own version of the process in which he heated and whisked melted cheese — this time cheddar, not Emmentaler — at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The result was shelf-stable processed cheese made for the American consumer, which Kraft patented in 1916 (via The New York Times). The Swiss-inspired product would become the foundation of the Kraft Foods empire.

American cheese didn't always come in singles

No matter what brand of American cheese you buy, you can pretty much guarantee it comes pre-sliced and pre-packaged. But it wasn't always that way, The New York Times reports. Before 1935, American cheese had to be sold by the brick because it was packaged and sealed while it was still hot and fully melted, making it impossible to slice. James L. Kraft's brother, Norman Kraft, decided to change that, eventually coming up with Kraft De Luxe Process Slices. 

To manufacture this version of the product, the melted cheese was poured on a cold stainless steel table, then rolled out with a cold rolling pin and sliced into three-inch squares, eight of which would be stacked and packaged. In 1950, Kraft began selling their cheese in slices, and six years later, Arnold Nawrocki, an engineer unassociated with Kraft, added a much-needed step to the manufacturing process. Nawrocki invented a machine that would wrap the slices in transparent paper, allowing consumers to more easily separate them. In 1965, Kraft adopted the technology, developing what we know as Kraft American Singles.