Okay, maybe you can help out a poor newbie that can't figure out what cheese to buy for my new love — cheeseburgers. For years I've been buying the artificial no-fat cheese, and now that I'm loving REAL cheese, all these different kinds of plain old American cheese have me stumped. Do I want the "cheese food", the "cheese spread", or what? What's the difference?
You're right that it can be very confusing. Here's a list of the definitions of what each one is, and it should be able to help you determine which one is right for you:
PASTURIZED PROCESS CHEESE:
Pasteurized process cheese is made from one or more cheeses, such as cheddar or colby, and may have cream or anhydrous milkfat added. The cheese is blended and heated with an emulsifier - typically a sodium or potassium phosphate, tartrate, or citrate - and other optional ingredients such as water, salt, artificial color, and spices or other flavorings.
The cheese is then poured into molds to solidify and is later packaged. This processing produces a smooth, mild-tasting cheese that melts easily. For pasteurized process cheese, the final product can have a maximum moisture content of 43% and must have at least 47% milkfat. An interesting twist is that the product alternatively can be labeled as pasteurized process American cheese when made from cheddar, colby, cheese curd, granular cheese, or a combination of these; when other varieties of cheese are included, it must be called simply American cheese.
PASTURIZED PROCESS CHEESE FOOD:
Pasteurized process cheese food is a variation of process cheese that may have dry milk, whey solids, or anhydrous milkfat added, which reduces the amount of cheese in the finished product. It must contain at least 51% of the cheese ingredient by weight, have a moisture content less than 44%, and have at least 23% milkfat.
PASTURIZED PROCESS CHEESE SPREAD:
Pasteurized process cheese spread is a variation on cheese food that may contain a sweetener and a stabilizing agent, such as the polysaccharide xanthan gum or the Irish moss colloid carrageenan, to prevent separation of the ingredients. The cheese must be spreadable at 70 F, contain 44 to 60% moisture, and have at least 20% milkfat.
PASTURIZED PROCESS CHEESE PRODUCT:
Pasteurized process cheese product is process cheese that doesn't meet the moisture and/or milkfat standards.
Imitation cheese is made from vegetable oil; it is less expensive, but also has less flavor and doesn't melt well.
Hope this helps!
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