Out in DFC country, we are definitely spoiled when it comes to quality food — especially dairy. In particular, some of our province’s best (in my opinion) cheeses can be found a stone’s throw
This cheesy reality got me thinking about how responsiveness to context is deeply necessary for business success. Artisan cheesemaking makes a lot of sense in a marketplace that values that kind of handmade attention — like in our area, where The Frontenac Arch is literally a UNESCO-designated protected environment, and sustainability is a community concern. But in a world where you could have a gorgeous salty squeaky perfect cheese curd, or a slice of blue so delicately aged you’ll want to put it in a museum, why would you “waste” your time with a floppy square of American cheese or hunk of Velveeta?
I didn’t pick the much-maligned Kraft Single or its melty cousin for effect: one of my favourite newsletters outlines the history of processed-cheese, and, friend — It’s all about context. American cheese was actually invented by a Canadian, James R. Kraft. It being 1916, the American military was in search of a cheese-like product that would remain edible after shipping to troops then engaged on the battlefields of World War 1. When the soldiers’ context changed after the end of hostilities, their taste for the orange squares did not, and American cheese entered the civilian palate.
The invention of Velveeta was economy-conscious as well:
“Emil Frey, the Swiss-born inventor of Velveeta, honed in on another problem that processed cheese could solve — waste. While working for the Monroe Cheese Factory in New York state, he developed a way to melt and combine scraps from imperfect wheels into a new cheese using whey as an emulsifying agent. Et voila, Velveeta. Kraft quickly purchased the brand. As the American appetite for uniform, pre-packaged food grew, the company rolled out innovation after innovation: Pre-sliced cheese in 1950 was followed by individually wrapped Kraft Singles in 1965 and Velveeta Shells and Cheese in 1978.”
So the presence of processed-cheese on our shelves is not necessarily a sign of cultural stagnation but of cultural — and business! — adaptation. As an American by birth, I can respect the opinion that a Kraft Single might make the best grilled cheese, or Velveeta the most nostalgic mid-century cheeseball. But as a Canadian by choice… A gooey slice of some local Madawaska wins every time!