Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

This is an excellent and eye-opening essay by a chef and food writer about, of all things, American cheese. He makes an excellent point, which the average dietitian/nutritionist/personal trainer would never know enough to make, which is that ALL cheese is processed. Cheese does not occur in nature. It is a man-made product; the same is true of yogurt (also good for you, especially plain, whole milk), ground meats, whole grains breads and pastas, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with “processed” foods; it depends on the particulars. Processed how? How much? With what additives or which nutrients extracted?

The raging against processed foods is mostly ignorant because it does not differentiate between processed but healthy (e.g., canned tuna, ground coffee, tea in teabags, frozen brocolli) and processed but unhealthy (candy bars [which were once cocoa and nuts, for example], frozen entrees [which are frequently unrecognizable dreck], and white bread. The details matter. Don’t be a dupe and fall prey to the thinking that the only good food is what you can buy at your local farmer’s market or Whole Foods. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s get another thing straight. All cheese is processed. All of it. It is a man-made product that does not exist in nature. Even the simplest cheese, like halloumi, is made by treating milk (whether from a cow, a sheep, a goat, or even a human) with rennet (an enzyme typically taken from the stomach lining of an unweaned calf, or, increasingly, vegetable-based enzymes with similar properties), draining the resulting curds, and pressing them together. More complex cheeses go through further steps of processing. Mozzarella and queso Oaxaca are kneaded and stretched, for instance. Gruyère and Comté are washed with a bacteria-infested brine called morge.

Most cheeses are inoculated with bacteria and allowed to ferment and age, during which time they develop flavor and rinds and lose moisture.

Heating, curdling, pressing, inoculating, aging…those are all processes.

Serious Eats: What Is American Cheese, Anyway?