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American cheese: Burger boon or bane?

photo 5So a couple of weeks ago I tried this almost awesome burger at White Tiger Gourmet — a terrific, hip-without-trying-too-hard joint in Athens.

More on White Tiger in a sec.

First the burger: I say “almost awesome” because I loved nearly everything about it, specifically the juicy/crusty patty, the great bun, the grilled onions, the crisp greens.

I hated the American cheese, however. I always hate American cheese. It’s like eating melted plastic bags. It coats your tongue with its petroleum-product texture and its processed flavor.

And yet the kind of people who bake their own buns, and cure their own pickles, and grind their own cows (you know who I’m talking about) use American cheese because of the way it melts.

Sorry, I can’t deal with the American cheese on the Bocado burger, either. Deal breaker.

I just noticed that the kids over at Eatocracy got into this discussion recently once the comments started rolling in.

You know what’s good cheese on a hamburger? Good cheese.

Who’s with me?

Now back to White Tiger, which is tucked into Athens’ Boulevard District in a cool old grocery store:

photo 1

Off to the left are some charcoal smokers and more picnic tables. The menu goes heavy on smoked meats, burgers, fresh ice cream and — this being Athens — lots of vegetarian-friendly fare.

photo 2

You order inside, and there are several tables if you prefer.

photo 4

We tried this sandwich special, the Barbarella, that piled on some seriously decent smoked pork, provolone cheese and white barbecue sauce onto a ciabatta roll.

photo 3

We also got a side of grilled cabbage that was spicy, greasy and kind of awesome. I really loved this place (despite the American cheese.)

48 comments Add your comment

Hungry Gringo

May 31st, 2011
4:19 pm

I think Kraft had to start calling them “Singles” because they couldn’t legally use the word “cheese” anymore.

Stephen

May 31st, 2011
4:23 pm

With you – word for word.

Reds

May 31st, 2011
4:27 pm

The only thing I like cheese in plastic on is a good old fashioned grilled cheese. Otherwise, give me sharp cheddar, or give me death.

Steve

May 31st, 2011
4:36 pm

Blue cheese was invented for cheeseburgers. That’s not my opinion… it’s science.

KEAD

May 31st, 2011
5:06 pm

I detest American cheese. I completely agree with you.

Bill W.

May 31st, 2011
5:15 pm

I concur, John. American cheese is not really cheese at all and belongs nowhere near anything that is otherwise delicious.

Art

May 31st, 2011
5:27 pm

John, you and I normally see “eye-to-eye” when it comes to the ingestion of petroleum-based products but I have to differ with you when it comes to this one… Sometimes I just need a nice piece of Velveeta on my bacon cheeseburger; the way it envelopes that burger is like a latex glove on a doctor’s hand… ;>)

SalMonela

May 31st, 2011
5:28 pm

In defense of American Cheese… Okay, there really is no defense for American Cheese. Make mine a nicely aged raw milk cheddar on a RARE burger (none of this – “we only cook our burgers medium” nonsense) please.

Jim R

May 31st, 2011
5:36 pm

Ahhh the memories…1977.. year two of college..burgers frying in the pan…pull the cheese-like singles from the fridge…plop one on the patty..the smell of burning plastic always reminds me of that meal. In rating cheese, Kraft processed product would be near or at the bottom, but in Burger-Land it reigns supreme.
In other burger related news..anyone know anything about “Smash Burger”? One is going in where the recently closed “Fat Burger” was on Sidney Marcus Dr….Go Figure…

j

May 31st, 2011
5:36 pm

Agreed, American Cheese can loosely be called a cheese. Nasty

Atlanta Native

May 31st, 2011
5:37 pm

American cheese is a guilty pleasure! I cannot eat most brands, any brand of individually wrapped slices or Velveeta, though. On the issue of what it is good for, haters may enjoy the concept of cheese racing. go see http://www.cheeseracing.org. Who would think the wrapping on slices would be made to withstand so much heat? And why?

John Kessler

May 31st, 2011
5:40 pm

Art – Please don’t use that analogy when addressing someone who turns 50 this year…

JEM

May 31st, 2011
5:45 pm

American cheese rocks. Cheese snobs…

Joe Mama

May 31st, 2011
5:57 pm

Jim R — “In other burger related news..anyone know anything about “Smash Burger”?

Here you go:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SmashBurger

I’m liking the sound of some of the sides. And the possibility of a Gentleman Jack shake has me drooling.

Art

May 31st, 2011
6:12 pm

John, it won’t hurt at all… and I truly am referring to the cheeseburger… Snap!

Wino

May 31st, 2011
6:14 pm

There is no good use for American cheese.

1164mgc

May 31st, 2011
6:24 pm

HATE American cheese on ANYTHING.

Art

May 31st, 2011
6:30 pm

All kidding aside, so am I to understand that every blogger/poster here, except me, does not eat at Subway’s, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, etc.??? Nor do you ever in your alcoholic or marijuana-induced stupor ever pick-up a can of spray cheese at the supermarket… Me smells a “cheeseball”…

Art

May 31st, 2011
7:01 pm

Chirp, chirp… chirp, chirp….

I love the singles

May 31st, 2011
7:02 pm

The foodie in me wants to agree with you, however, I have tried every cheese offered at Yeah Burger and it taught me something. If you really want to taste the burger, then american cheese offers the best of both worlds. If you want a strong good cheese, then your burger is now just a place holder for the cheese. I find this true at all the burger joints in Atlanta. I am now a full american cheese burger eater. By the way, Googie Burger is the best idea Atlanta has ever come up with. Great reason to hang out in Centennial Park. They serve Sweetwater 420.

[...] the crisp greens. I hated the American cheese, however. I always hate American cheese. … read full news Published: Wed, 01 Jun 2011 01:15 In category: NewsTags:American cheese: Burger boon or [...]

Dave

May 31st, 2011
7:42 pm

This is why America has fallen on tough times. I truly feel bad for all you folks whose mothers never made you a nice grilled cheese sandwich when you were young. Then, there’s the rest of you who somehow think it makes you sound worldly to say American cheese disgusts you. Finally, there’s maybe one person who actually dislikes it. To you, I say, “to each his own.”

GloriaJ

May 31st, 2011
7:51 pm

What about Kraft Cheese Deluxe- American cheese slices? This is supposed to be an actual cheese and not a “food product” as the Kraft Singles are.

JRev

May 31st, 2011
7:54 pm

Agree 100%. Gruyere is amazing. American cheese is for kids and adults who have never experienced what real cheese is. With literally hundreds of different, unique kinds of cheese, I have found no use in my diet for American cheese. It only reaches my gullet if it’s the only cheese available. Yes, my mom made me American grilled cheese sandwiches that were soooooo good..but, once I started making my own with “real” cheese, I discovered how much better those sandwiches could’ve been. Sorry mom.

Edward

May 31st, 2011
8:16 pm

I don’t mind the American cheese on a burger, especially one as awesome as the H&F or Bocado. But, I generally prefer something more delectable, like a nice bleu, or pepper jack, or gruyere. Even cheddar or that thick slice of imported Huntsman (a double-Gloucester/Stilton goodie) I used the last time I pan-fried a nice burger. Throw on some caramelized onions and some peppered bacon… heaven!

iRun

May 31st, 2011
9:22 pm

While I have to agree with regards to American cheese I would have to say my favorite cheeses for burgers are generally soft mild-flavored cheese, like Muenster or Farmer’s.

Velveeta is good, though, with a can of Ro-Tel and a bag of tortilla chips.

jimmy

May 31st, 2011
10:13 pm

I like the gooey texture of American cheese. I don’t use Kraft though, I use the kind from the deli. Somehow it feels less icky.

Rik Roberts

May 31st, 2011
10:19 pm

SophyB

May 31st, 2011
10:24 pm

American cheese, blocks of Velveeta & Cool Whip are the true axis of evil in my book. Nothing good comes from them.

E

May 31st, 2011
10:54 pm

Blasphemer. If I had my choice of beautiful slightly melted bleau cheese crumbles or a thick slice of vulveeta on a burger, I am taking the vulveeta every time. I renounce my foodie credentials when it comes to cheese. oh and Sophy, Cool wHip is awesome. /Family Guy’d

David Hoffman

May 31st, 2011
11:28 pm

A true burger lover demands that the beef burger and bun be able to stand on their own. Properly seasoned prepared beef, cooked correctly and a sturdy enough bun to hold up to the natural juiciness, are all that is needed. All this nonsense with bacon, cheese, eggs, pickles, onions, peanut butter, mayonnaise, mushrooms, tomatoes, and peppers is there to hide the fact that the beef is of poor quality, improperly prepared, and badly cooked. Velveeta is used for melted cheese because it melts well without the oily mess of some real cheddar cheeses. The stupid yellow-orange food coloring needs to be done away with in American and Cheddar cheeses.

BehindEnemyLines

May 31st, 2011
11:45 pm

Nothing like some food snobbery to close out the evening. Sorry you can’t deal with what provides the best sensory experience for a large chunk of the population, your loss.

Sam

June 1st, 2011
12:23 am

Muenster is probably my favorite on a burger, but American isn’t as terrible as many claim. Yes, it’s overly salty, and yes, it has that texture… but a good white American has a wonderful melting point (not too early, not too late) that makes it perfect for many sandwiches.

Name (required)

June 1st, 2011
6:46 am

Just like cars, America can’t build a good cheese to save their own lives.

Edward

June 1st, 2011
6:47 am

I really don’t understand why I live in Athens and haven’t eaten at White Tiger. As for American cheese, it is ok on a burger, though I prefer swiss.

Rodney

June 1st, 2011
8:29 am

Good Grief … who’da thunk American cheese would have sparked this kind of response? Typically, only BBQ and God provoke such vitriol in AJC posters! :)

I have a fairly refined, sometimes adventurous, taste for food but I can’t say I fall into the “death to American cheese” camp. I grew up with it, so maybe it’s a sense memory that I can’t shake but I don’t “hate” it. I don’t buy it, because I prefer bolder flavors with cheese but were I to be served it on a hamburger (such as when I visit my family) I wouldn’t fling it against the wall, one hand to my forehead, wailing and gnashing my teeth at the audacity of this person who dared serve me American cheese …

Betsy

June 1st, 2011
8:49 am

Thanks for giving us your take! My parents live in Athens, so sometimes we’re over there looking for something new and different. My parents are in their own rut, so they rarely know of stuff that is newer and interesting (sorry, Mom!).

Count me in on the “hates American cheese” crowd. I’m not a snob, though, as I’ll confess my embarrasing love for Cool Whip anytime.

Monster

June 1st, 2011
9:12 am

American Cheese is iconic and seems to be molecularly designed to fit the perfect burger. On everything else, Ill pass; although young asiago is a solid second. Ill let Kenji speak to this topic…

http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/06/the-burger-lab-what-is-the-best-american-cheese-for-cheeseburgers-taste-test.html

http://aht.seriouseats.com/tags/The%20Burger%20Lab?ref=skybox1

1164mgc

June 1st, 2011
9:31 am

I agree that people who don’t like American cheese are not snobs – it’s just a taste preference. I also wonder if restaurants use it because it’s cheaper than “real” cheese. I’m a vegetarian now but Mom used to make bologna and cheese sandwiches with American cheese on Wonder bread, French’s mustard and Kraft mayo. I eat NONE of that now, but it isn’t because it was just “o.k. for kids” then. People make the assumption that children’s palates are good for nothing but chicken nuggets and pizza, when in fact many adults prefer this type of food over other offerings. Look at the comments here – many adults prefer the American cheese on their burgers. I usually don’t even eat cheese on my veggie burger, and I would probably be correct in saying that many of you would never eat a veggie burger – if I’m a cheese “snob” then what’s to keep me from calling you a burger “snob?”

Grasshopper

June 1st, 2011
9:55 am

Velveeta is great for scrambled eggs too.

KoPP

June 1st, 2011
10:50 am

Swiss or provolone is good for when you order a burger at a place where the beef is good. I don’t see the need to have multiple ingredients on a burger when you want to enjoy the meat – it’s counter-intuitive to mass a bunch of items that distract from the main theme.

What else hould be on a burger? Onion? Mebbe. Bacon? Sometime. A cheese that hides the nice rare meaty slab? Might as well order it well done and put 10 different kinds of goo on it. Or even better, order the bun with all the fixins.

I still like Velveeta in some situations – grew up on it. But a burger should be all about the beef, rather than in spite of it.

Kimbo

June 1st, 2011
11:23 am

I think many associate American cheese with their childhoods. My grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers and even mac and cheese were all made with American cheese and/or Velveeta. While I do enjoy real cheese, sometimes it’s nice to have a burger with a slice of American cheese on it.

Monster

June 1st, 2011
11:28 am

Lets open this up to a wider audience.

http://www.seriouseats.com/talk/2011/06/atl-hates-on-american-cheese.html

John, despite what people say, I love ya, but on this one you are just plain wrong. Nice comment grenade though.

Alex

June 1st, 2011
11:58 am

American all the way, unless I’m craving a Blue Cheeseburger. But a nice sub for American is Gouda cheese, it melts very nicely.

Oh, and I prefer white American over the orange one. I know, there’s no difference except for the food coloring, but I swear it tastes and melts differently.

John Kessler

June 1st, 2011
1:01 pm

Thanks, Monster. Lots of gooey disagreement keeps the cheeseburger convo interesting….

Muffin

June 1st, 2011
10:22 pm

i never eat cheese on my burgers. but then i only eat turkey or veggie burgers. i figure since i’m eating lower fat, i’m entitled to slather on the mayo (which i’d rather have than the cheese to give it its sense of greasiness) and then i pile on the tomatoes, onions, lettuce, etc. YUM.

Anne

June 2nd, 2011
12:43 pm

John – I have to agree with you. Born and raised in Wisconsin, I know cheese and can distinguish cheese based on the dairy that makes it. American cheese is not cheese; it is fake cheese. If you want a mild cheese that melt easily, I would suggest a Colby or even a mild Cheddar.

Lorenzo

June 6th, 2011
2:49 pm

American cheese has only two uses: (1) cheeseburger, and (2) grilled cheese. The only cheeses I like on a burger are American and Blue. By all means, grind the meat and bake the bun in house, and make sure the tomato is straight off the vine, but please don’t use “real” cheese on my cheeseburger. I prefer Kraft Singles on my burger over “real” cheese for the same reason I prefer Heinz ketchup over fancy house-made ketchup: it’s the way I remember it tasting from my childhood. Some things are just not to be messed with. A cheeseburger with cheddar or jack just does not taste like a cheeseburger to me. I guess blue cheese is a different enough animal that I don’t really think about it being a “cheeseburger”; rather, it’s a burger with a tangy, chunky, cheese-like topping.