14 Cheesy Facts About Velveeta

You can mix it into a casserole, melt it into a dip, squirt it on top of a salad and, apparently, bake it into fudge. No matter how you slice it (or dice it, or nuke it), Velveeta is an iconic brand, and a testament to the wondrous power of American food processing. Here, we take a look at the company’s early days, its evolution, and the real driving force behind Ro-Tel dip.

1. IT WAS INVENTED TO SALVAGE BROKEN CHEESE WHEELS.

Back in the early 1900s, New York’s Monroe Cheese Company was one of the country’s most successful cheese makers. It had a big problem, however: Many of the Swiss cheese wheels that came out of its Pennsylvania factory were broken or misshapen. So the company sent some of its discarded product to in-house cheese wiz Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant who’d recently invented Liederkranz, a popular American take on Limburger cheese. Frey tinkered around with the cheese pieces on his home stove, and eventually found that by adding byproducts like whey back into the cheese, he could create a smooth, pliable food product. When melted, it had a velvety consistency to it, so Frey called it Velveeta.

2. KRAFT BOUGHT THE COMPANY AND MADE SOME TWEAKS.

For four years, Velveeta operated independently out of Monroe, N.Y., until Kraft purchased it in 1927. Kraft, which had made its own strides in processed cheese technology, wanted another weapon to add to its arsenal, and the company tinkered with Frey’s formula in-house while using the Swiss inventor’s name in marketing materials. 

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY MARKETED AS A HEALTHY PRODUCT.

Adding whey back into the mixture, the company reasoned, bumped up Velveeta’s nutritional value. Check out this TV ad from 1958, which targets "weight-watching moms" and their “youngsters.”

4. IT HAD THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION'S STAMP OF APPROVAL.

In 1931, the AMA claimed Velveeta had all the nutritional qualities to promote “firm flesh.” These were the days of doctor-endorsed cigarettes, after all.

5. EARLY RECIPES INCLUDED POURING IT OVER TOASTED PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.

An ad in Better Homes and Gardens, 1953. Jamie, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The company’s early ads instructed housewives to make a cheese sauce using ½ pound of Velveeta and ¼ cup of milk, then pour it "over toasted sandwiches of peanut butter and pickles." Sounds… delightful.

6. IT WAS HUGE IN GERMANY.

Demand was so high for Velveta, as it was called there, that the company’s plant in Lindenberg could barely keep up once the product was introduced in Germany in 1937

7. KRAFT BEGAN PROMOTING IT AS A DIP TO AVOID INTERNAL COMPETITION.

An ad from 1951. Jamie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the ‘50s, Kraft came out with pre-sliced cheese, which brought it perilously close to competing with the blocks of Velveeta it was instructing shoppers to slice up. So the company put all its advertising heft behind Velveeta as a dip and a sauce.

8. IT'S NOT REALLY CHEESE.

Real cheese used to be part of the product, but these days Velveeta is mainly whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate mixed with milk, fat and preservatives—which is not technically cheese by the Food and Drug Administration’s standards. In 2002, the FDA sent the company a warning letter asking them change their labeling from “cheese spread” to “cheese product,” and Kraft complied.

9. PEOPLE LIKE TO MAKE THEIR OWN HOMEMADE VERSIONS.

Apparently you don’t need to be a multinational food conglomerate to make Velveeta. You just need some milk, shredded cheese, salt and gelatin. 

10. IF YOU LOVE RO-TEL DIP, IT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE OF A CALCULATED MARKETING MOVE.

For years, people in the south have been combining cans of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chilies with blocks of Velveeta to make a delicious dip. Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson were apparently big fans. But it wasn’t until 2004 that the dish gained any marketing muscle. That’s when food giant ConAgra, which purchased Ro-Tel in 2002, quietly entered into an agreement with competitor Kraft to promote cans of Ro-Tel and Velveeta side-by-side in stores and through advertisements. It was a brilliant move that boosted sales of both brands, which were slumping at the time.

11. REMEMBER CHEESEPOCALYPSE?

Back in January 2014, Kraft announced a shortage of Velveeta due to a recall and transition to a new production facility. The timing couldn’t have been worse, falling just weeks before the Super Bowl. Some people wondered if it was all a publicity stunt, something the company denied. Others proceeded to lose their minds.

12. TURNS OUT THAT WAS A BIG WIN FOR THE COMPANY.

Rather than shrink from the “Cheesepocalype” controversy, Kraft embraced it with straightforward communication and a welcome dose of irony, referring to Velveeta as “our nation’s most precious commodity: Liquid Gold.” They also created a website that tracked the shortage across the country. Fans poured their hearts out on social media, and the buzz proved way more valuable than advertising.

13. CHEFS USE IT.

And celebrities with cooking shows! And there are more of them using it than you’d think. They seem to prefer the sneak-it-in method for a quick, easy flavor boost.

14. THERE'S AN '80S COVER BAND CALLED VELVEETA.

They play all the cheesiest hits of the decade.

A Shrine to Brine: The Mysterious Case of Missouri's Highway Pickle Jar

iStock.com/MorePixels
iStock.com/MorePixels

No one knows how it started. No one knows who was responsible. Some may even have dismissed it as an aberration, a glitch in the scenery that would soon be corrected. But eventually, drivers in and around Des Peres, Missouri who took a highway off-ramp connecting I-270 North to Manchester Road began to notice that a jar of pickles was sitting on a dividing barrier on the ramp. And it wasn’t going anywhere.

Since 2012, the pickle jar has confounded drivers and internet sleuths alike, according to Atlas Obscura. Some have speculated that someone was trying to send a secret message or share a private joke. Perhaps someone pulling off to the side due to car trouble felt the need to place the brine-filled jar on the concrete wall and then forgot about it. Maybe someone thought it would be a kind of three-dimensional graffiti, incongruous amid the bustling traffic. Maybe it’s an indictment of commerce.

Whatever the case, once the pickles appeared, advocates refused to let them go. Jars that end up toppled over or otherwise damaged are replaced. Sometimes they reappear in protective Tupperware or with a holiday-themed bow. Sightings are photographed for posterity and posted on a Facebook fan page devoted to the jar, which currently has over 4200 members and has morphed from a place to theorize about the mysterious jar's origins to a place where people swap pickle-related recipes and stories.

There are dry spells—no one has posted of a pickle sighting in several months—but followers remain optimistic the jar will continue to remain a presence in Des Peres even if the motivation for placing them near the roadway remains as murky as the briny juice inside.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Why the Filet-O-Fish Sandwich Has Been on the McDonald's Menu for Nearly 60 Years

McDonald's has introduced and quietly killed many dishes over the years (remember McDonald's pizza?), but there's a core group of items that have held their spot on the menu for decades. Listed alongside the Big Mac and McNuggets is the Filet-O-Fish—a McDonald's staple you may have forgotten about if you're not the type of person who orders seafood from fast food restaurants. But the classic sandwich, consisting of a fried fish filet, tartar sauce, and American cheese on a bun, didn't get on the menu by mistake—and thanks to its popularity around Lent, it's likely to stick around.

According to Taste of Home, the inception of the Filet-O-Fish can be traced back to a McDonald's franchise that opened near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1959. Back then the restaurant offered beef burgers as its only main dish, and for most of the year, diners couldn't get enough of them. Things changed during Lent: Many Catholics abstain from eating meat and poultry on Fridays during the holy season as a form of fasting, and in the early 1960s, Cincinnati was more than 85 percent Catholic. Fridays are supposed to be one of the busiest days of the week for restaurants, but sales at the Ohio McDonald's took a nosedive every Friday leading up to Easter.

Franchise owner Lou Groen went to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc with the plan of adding a meat alternative to the menu to lure back Catholic customers. He proposed a fried halibut sandwich with tartar sauce (though meat is off-limits for Catholics on Fridays during Lent, seafood doesn't count as meat). Kroc didn't love the idea, citing his fears of stores smelling like fish, and suggested a "Hula Burger" made from a pineapple slice with cheese instead. To decide which item would earn a permanent place on the menu, they put the two sandwiches head to head at Groen's McDonald's one Friday during Lent.

The restaurant sold 350 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches that day—clearly beating the Hula Burger (though exactly how many pineapple burgers sold, Kroc wouldn't say). The basic recipe has received a few tweaks, switching from halibut to the cheaper cod and from cod to the more sustainable Alaskan pollock, but the Filet-O-Fish has remained part of the McDonald's lineup in some form ever since. Today 300 million of the sandwiches are sold annually, and about a quarter of those sales are made during Lent.

Other seafood products McDonald's has introduced haven't had the same staying power as the Filet-O-Fish. In 2013, the chain rolled out Fish McBites, a chickenless take on McNuggets, only to pull them from menus that same year.

[h/t Taste of Home]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER