A frustrating part of making cheeseburgers is overcooking a nice juicy patty while you wait for the cheese to melt on top. The same can be said for a good grilled cheese sandwich. Sometimes the cheese just resists melting, especially if you use the good stuff -- an extra sharp cheddar or a nice Gruyere. It's reasons like this that diner cooks use American cheese -- it melts in a flash (and yes, it's cheap).
American cheese gets a bad rap, and perhaps for good reason -- it's not real cheese, after all. It hasn't even earned the right to be called "cheese" on its packaging. Instead, it goes by labels such as "pasteurized prepared cheese product " or "process cheese food" (appetizing, no?). Some American cheeses get their creamy texture from ingredients like oil and gelatin, while others rely on more wholesome elements like milk and whey (check out the lists of ingredients in our slideshow below).
Despite its faults, American cheese shines in terms of meltability. In a matter of seconds, heat can morph the cold, rubbery sheets into bubbling mounds of cheesy goodness -- and that's a good thing, especially as grilling season approaches.
We blind-tasted nine different brands of yellow American cheese, taking special care to note each one's properties after being melted. Though there weren't drastic differences in flavor, their textures ranged from creamy to rubbery and even plasticky. We had strict guidelines in terms of testing only those "cheese foods" labeled as "American cheese." We didn't test slices labeled as "cheddar flavored" (such as the popular Kraft Deli Deluxe Sharp Cheddar Singles).
Check out the slideshow below to see how our American cheeses performed, and submit slides of your own favorite cheeses to participate in the discussion.
As always, our taste test was in no way influenced by the brands involved.