Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cheez Whiz!

Here's what can happen to a person when it's too cold and icy to go to church.

I've been involved with some online friends in a message board discussion about aerosol cheese. This has gone on for a few days now; it started with some consternation when someone realized that Kraft now calls their spray cheese (cheez) "Easy Cheese." Many of us were thinking (and writing) that it used to be called Cheez Whiz. Others chimed in to say no, Cheez Whiz is the orange stuff in the jar that you put on nachos.

Some of us remembered that in the early days of spray cheese there was another name.

Now, I know you are thinking "Why doesn't someone just Google this and find the answer?"

Ha. That was my thought, too, and so I did. I spent probably an hour or more chasing this down. Once I'm curious about something, I'll waste a lot of time on it!

Anyway, Kraft seems to want to pretend like this product has no history. Ah, but I kept looking! And it paid off.

Short story:
Kraft invented Cheez Whiz in 1952 -- the stuff we know as the taco cheese sauce. It's also a longtime ingredient in Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches. (More on that later.)

Aerosol cheese was first developed by Nabisco in 1966. It was called "Snack Mate" -- do you remember???

Anyway, at some point Nabisco's aerosol cheese married Ritz Crackers, which made for some tense conversation at the family Thanksgiving dinner each year.

Through a series of corporate mergers and product buy-outs and high-power executive meetings and memos, Kraft started selling Cheez Whiz in a can. I could not find an exact date or any history, but there is a cookbook pamphlet dated 1981 that still mentions "Snack Mate" from Nabisco.

In 2000, Kraft bought Nabisco. Alas, that was about the time people decided they didn't think eating chemicals was a good idea. So all the baby boomers who grew up eating fake orange cheez stopped feeding it to their kids. ("We like our kids better than our parents liked us," they said.) They toyed with the idea of developing "organic processed foods." The organic farmers said "Do what? Not with our crops you don't, you conglomerate!"

Kraft rebranded Cheez Whiz spray cheese and called it "Easy Cheese." All of the goo, none of the history or nostalgia of our pre-obesity days in this country.

By the way, the parent company for Kraft is RJ Reynolds, the tobacco company. So they really, really are out to get us, one way or the other.

I think the novelty of "cheese in a spray can" may be one of the leading factors in the slow food movement, actually. There's a backlash effect.

Go back and watch some Ed Sullivan reruns. He was around just before spray cheese hit the markets. Look at how thin everyone on his shows were -- and believe me, it wasn't from anorexia. We didn't see people like Dan and Roseanne Conner until we got squirt cheese and all the other processed convenience foods. (See how I worked that in? We can do research and STILL be couch potatoes.)

Go eat a vegetable now. Plain, no spray cheese.

*Oh, about the Philly cheese steaks. A couple of years back there was a HUGE increase in the price of Cheez Whiz (55 percent), Philly sandwich makers were in a big crunch. Even Pat King, king of the cheese steaks, was affected.


Erudite Redneck said...

You should write a quirky food-and-home column. :-)

Trixie said...

Believe me, if there was $1.95 on the table to pay for such a column, I would. You want fries with that?

Teditor said...


Trixie said...

First I was completely off base with what I though Cheese Whiz was! How could I have been so wrong. Then I was a little freaked out that you and countless blog friends spent so much time debating the issue. *shaking my head* Now I am wondering how I can get my friends to debate Vienna Sausages which aren't really sausages now are they?

Trixie said...

Oh, and I'll bet they are not from Vienna, either! Time for more research.... (LOL -- "Other Trixie," it's so good to have you come visit. I love your blog too, by the way. For those who think I've been talking to myself, "Other Trixie" is at Trixie in Transit

itgirl said...

Have you ever watched the show "How it's made" on Discovery Science? Last night they showed how gummi bears were made. Awesome.

Munk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Munk said...

You saved my partner and me from what might have been a rather nasty argument tonight .... we started talking about this very thing! I pointed out that Cheez Whiz had to exist in a spray can in 1981 because of the quote in The Blues Brothers (i.e., to Elwood, "Didja git me my Cheez Whiz, boy?" in the safehouse) .... and she contended that it had a different name and that real CW only came in a jar ... and so on and so on, ad nauseum. Google turned up so little, and here we found you'd done the research for us. Thanks for settling it!

west-coaster said...

Regarding the scene from "The Blues Brothers"...

Yes, the old man in the fleabag hotel asks for his Cheez Whiz, which Elwood whips from his pocket and tosses to the guy. That always stuck in my head, and my wife argued that Cheez Whiz only came in a glass jar and never an aerosol can, hence my Google search which led me to this blog.

(BTW, the aerosol cans of various things were a running gag in the movie, but it was only when the DVD with deleted scenes was released did we learn why. At the beginning of the film, Elwood works in an aerosol can factory, resigning from his job before he and Jake go on the "mission from God" for the rest of the film. After seeing that, it finally made sense why he had so many thing in aerosol cans!)

Glen said...

Hold the phone!!! "a series of corporate mergers"?? "Kraft started selling Cheez Whiz in a can. I could not find an exact date or any history"??? You haven't proved a damn thing, and near as I can tell there is still zero evidence of anyone's claim that Cheez Whiz was EVER sold in a can! All you state is that originally it was in a jar, and currently it's in a jar... well guess what... IT'S ALWAYS BEEN IN A FRICKIN JAR!!!