Pizza Burgers

With Velveeta, evidently.

June 16, 1925 The Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman

We’ve talked about the evolution of the dairy industry in general in the post for perfection pumpkin pie from Winsted, Connecticut; we’ve talked about the process of cheesemaking in the post for chicken tacos from Ceres, California; and we’ve even talked a little bit about processed cheese, in the recipe for golden nugget meat loaves from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

But somehow, we haven’t talked about Velveeta. I guess it hasn’t been a priority, since it’s one of the most obsessively discussed and documented American brands in history, right up there with Twinkies, Campbell’s soup, and Hershey’s chocolate. Still, here’s a primer.

To understand what happened in the creation of Velveeta, we have to look back at the process of creating cheese in general. As we discussed in the chicken tacos post:

Very broadly speaking, cheese is a dairy product created by curdling milk and then separating the curds from the whey. Within that basic pattern, there are myriad variations of technique, timing, and materials, creating the diversity of cheese we enjoy; but the most fundamental distinctions in the process of making cheese are how the curdling is achieved, how and how much of the whey is drained, and whether the cheese is aged after it’s produced.

The production of cheese was as much art as it was science in the late 19th century. In the 1880s, Switzerland-born Emil Frey was in his 20s, working for the new German owners of a cheese farm in Monroe, New York. He was tasked with trying to replicate a European style of cheese (it’s called Bismarck but he so surpassed the original in fame that nobody seems to remember what it actually tasted like, as far as I can tell). Instead, he made something that came to be called Liederkranz–a soft, spreadable cheese with a gold crust.

In the 1910s, the consolidation of farms led to centralized cheese production, and what used to be the occasionally broken wheel of cheese turned into measurable losses from large storage facilities as wheel after wheel of cheese would be broken. Frey was tasked with finding a way to avoid wasting these wheels.

Melting cheese usually results in the fats and proteins separating, turning the cheese into a greasy puddle. Processed cheese avoids that outcome by using emulsifying salts on the separated parts, then re-solidifying them, such that when melted again, they stay emulsified. Frey used this Swiss process, including an amount of the underlying whey in making Velveeta’s original recipe. Ultimately, when Kraft bought the brand in 1927, they insist they used their own recipe. Since then, Kraft has reformulated a number of times.

Another take on pizza burgers, from the March 30, 1971 edition of Middletown, New York’s The Times Herald Record:

Sloppy Joe Pizza Burger

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. chili
salt and pepper to taste
1 can (10-1/2 oz.) pizza sauce with cheese
6 hamburg rolls
12 cheese slices

Brown meat in skillet; add onion, sauté until tender. Add molasses, seasonings, and pizza sauce. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Cut hamburg rolls in half; top each half with a cheese slice; broil for 3 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Serve buns topped with meat filling.

Serves 6.

From a box sold in Nampa, Idaho.

Pizza Burger

1-1/2 lb. ground beef, cooked
3/4 lb. Velveeta cheese (cut in 1/2 inch thick slices)
1/2 c. chili sauce
1/2 c. ketchup
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. oregano

Mix well and spread 1/2 inch thick on buns. Cook at 400 deg. for 10 minutes.

One Comment

  1. Letti

    These pizza burgers are awesome

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