What Is Velveeta, Anyway?

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It’s a melty, gooey staple of many casserole dishes and dip recipes, but what is Velveeta, exactly? Should it be considered a real cheese, alongside the likes of cheddar, Swiss and American?

Here is what you should know about this distinctively orange-colored food before eating it, from its ingredients to how it’s changed with the times and even some tips for using it in recipes. Plus, we’ve found some entertaining video clips from Velveeta’s ever-evolving marketing campaigns over the decades. You might even be shocked to learn how old this brand is!

Keep reading to unlock the mysteries of Velveeta.

Is Velveeta Real Cheese?

So, what is Velveeta? The most important thing to understand about Velveeta is that it isn’t a cheese so much as a “pasteurized process cheese product.” That’s its official designation by the Food and Drug Administration. However, because it tastes like a mild processed cheese that’s similar to American cheese, many people think of Velveeta as a cheese, even though it’s technically not anymore.

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The original Velveeta that was created in 1918 was, in fact, made from discarded bits of Swiss cheese, but over the years, the brand has tweaked its formula. Swiss-born cheesemaker Emil Frey reportedly invented Velveeta while working at a cheese factory in New York as a way to salvage broken cheese wheels that would otherwise go to waste.

Frey realized that by adding a bit of whey to the cheese, he could create a smoother cheese product that kept a consistent texture when melted (unlike regular cheese that tends to separate and become stringy upon melting). Frey reportedly dubbed it “Velveeta” because its texture was as smooth as velvet.

These days, Velveeta is still as smooth as ever, but it’s considered a highly processed food with a long ingredient list. Its main ingredients include whey, milk, milk protein concentrate, modified food starch, canola oil, sodium citrate. These ingredients work together to create a shelf-stable and easy-to-melt cheese-like substance. However, take note that cheese is not among Velveeta’s listed ingredients any more, although whey, milk and cheese culture are.

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Popular Velveeta Uses

Thanks to its smooth texture, Velveeta is ideal for incorporating into macaroni and cheese, casseroles (including in some versions of the perennial Thanksgiving favorite, green bean casserole) and just about any recipe that calls for a cheese sauce, like queso dips and soups.

While typically sold in a block — or a “loaf” as it’s called by the brand’s owner, Kraft Heinz — Velveeta is also easy to cut up and shred. This means it can be used as a cheese replacement in recipes that call for melted or cooked cheese. Some creative recipes that utilize Velveeta in more unusual ways include Velveeta cheese fudge and Velveeta tuna shortcake!

You can even find vintage Velveeta recipe books on eBay from generations past if you want to dive deep into the strange culinary world unlocked with a box of this food.

velveeta macaroni and cheese
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Where to find Velveeta

Velveeta is ubiquitous at pretty much any grocery store you’ll find in America, but you won’t typically see it with the cheese. It’s usually in one of the middle aisles with pantry staples. Amazon also sells it if you don’t feel like searching for it at the store.

You may find it for sale as a loaf, as pre-cut slices, in sauce packets or as part of ready-to-serve meals, like the classic boxed Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

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What Is Velveeta’s Reputation?

Not all of the publicity Velveeta has received in recent years is positive. An article from Delish, entitled “Seven Reasons Why You Should Never, Ever Eat Velveet,” pointed out some downsides to the snack: chiefly, it is especially high in lactose, has a rubbery texture in its non-melted state and has what some consider a bland taste. Velveeta is also a high-calorie and high-fat food. A single box reportedly has over 2,500 calories.

Still, in the 100-plus years since its invention, Velveeta has attained iconic status, even if it isn’t given much respect among gourmet circles. It’s got a devoted following and remains a huge seller after all these years. Even people who’ve never had it likely know what Velveeta is, thanks to its prominence in stores and its many marketing campaigns.

If you simply take a look at Velveeta commercials that have aired over the decades, you’ll notice that the brand has tried to change with the times. For instance, in a commercial that aired in 1958, Kraft highlighted the brand’s purported nutritional benefits.

Meanwhile, a Velveeta commercial that aired in the 1980s was a bit more Hollywood and featured the slogan, “There is no single cheese like Velveeta.” It even starred a young Kirk Cameron before he gained fame on “Growing Pains.”

Capitalizing on the low-fat food craze that dominated the 1990s, the brand introduced Velveeta Light, a version of the cheese product that contained less fat and no cholesterol. They showed it off in this commercial.

In more recent years, it seems Velveeta has embraced its place as an offbeat, kitschy staple of the American pantry. It dubbed itself “Liquid Gold” in a popular marketing campaign in the early 2010s that opted for humor.

In 2021, Kraft Heinz debuted a new logo and another tongue-in-cheek commercial entitled “That’s La Dolce Velveeta.” Inspired by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s iconic 1960 film, “La Dolce Vita,” the ad shows people indulging in Velveeta in a variety of hyperrealistic ways, from a woman riding around a lawnmower holding a martini glass of Velveeta mac and cheese to several people having a tea party where melted Velveeta is poured from the kettle into cups.

What do you think of Velveeta — do you love eating or cooking with it or do you only prefer “real” cheese?