American Cheese Is Perfect
Perhaps you think you are better than American cheese. But you are wrong. American cheese is perfect. Maybe in the deli case, you sneer at the orange log labeled “American,” going for its nearby neighbors—the mild cheddar, the swiss, the Havarti. Are you immune to rainbows, too? Olympic gymnastics, fireflies on summer nights, ranch dressing, and the warm, fuzzy bellies of kittens? Please enjoy your lukewarm tap water, C-SPAN, and hard, wooden chair in your cave of austerity. I will be cozied into a diner booth, face-first in an American cheese omelet.
It is my moral and ethical imperative to tell you that breakfast would be a lesser beast in the absence of American cheese. Not all breakfasts. Not all the time. But enough that the dearth of it would be palpable and unfortunate. Would it help if I told you not to think of it as cheese? American cheese technically comes from cheese (it’s called "processed cheese" or “cheese food,” but it’s still made from cheese mixed with other ingredients about which you should not worry too much), as it happens—despite the ill-informed protests of dairy truthers. But I say this because its main virtue is less in its flavor (does there even exist a more demure cheese?), than in its divine plasticity.
I am not being pejorative when I say “plastic.” I would never do that to American cheese. Not when it has brought me so much pleasure. I’m saying it in the technical sense, meaning that it can be shaped and molded easily. That matters in the morning. Who wants to be at odds with dairy so early in the day? Super-aged gouda is an umami marvel and an aggressive Stilton is proof positive of a benign higher being, but those are night cheeses, worthy of all your sensory attention. I would never suggest that American cheese make a cameo on your fancy and excellent night cheese plate, and it would likely be mortified by the mere suggestion. American cheese knows its place, and that place is on your breakfast table (or car or desk or wherever you feed yourself), melted—always melted—onto scrambled eggs or omelets, into hash browns, nestled between ham and biscuit, against a poppy seed-crusted Kaiser roll in a classic New York egg-and-cheese sandwich, or if you are me—a professional breakfast journalist—atop steaming pancakes because I just can’t deal with sugar shock that early in the day or ever. It may not offer the most assertive flavor, but it provides a pleasant, essential lubrication, and I’m going to end this sentence before it gets weird.
And yet there are those who feel the need to denigrate American cheese. But I am indignant on its behalf. What has American cheese done if not offer stalwart satisfaction, morning in and morning out? It’s never going to win blue ribbons or seek any accolades, but still, people go out of their way to proclaim that they would never put that crap on their food. That it’s “trashy” (which is offensive on some pretty intense levels). That they can’t believe anyone would violate the sacred temple of their taste by eating...blahblahblah. If you cannot occasionally turn down the volume of your inner cultural arbiter and simply enjoy visceral pleasures on occasion, American cheese cannot help you—and perhaps you are not yet ready to receive its teachings. That’s okay. It will wait.