What’s Really in Your Food? Unveiling the Truth Behind ‘Real Cheese’

When you reach for that packet of cheese in the supermarket, you might notice the label proudly proclaiming it as “real cheese”. But have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly that means? What is “real cheese”, and how does it differ from other types of cheese? In this article, we will delve into the world of cheese production and labeling to unveil the truth behind “real cheese”.

What is “Real Cheese”?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “real cheese” is a dairy product made from milk and/or cream, and possibly other dairy ingredients. It must contain at least 51% actual cheese, with the remainder being other permissible ingredients such as salt, enzymes, and coloring. The term “real cheese” is often used to distinguish these products from “processed cheese” or “cheese products”, which may contain less than 51% cheese and additional non-dairy ingredients.

How is “Real Cheese” Made?

Real cheese is made through a process that involves curdling milk to separate the solid curds from the liquid whey. The curds are then heated and pressed to remove more whey, and the resulting cheese is aged for varying lengths of time to develop different flavors and textures. This process can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, which is why real cheese tends to be more expensive than processed cheese.

What’s in Processed Cheese?

Processed cheese is made by blending real cheese with other ingredients such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, flavorings, and colorings. These additional ingredients help to extend the shelf life of the cheese and give it a uniform texture and flavor. However, they also mean that processed cheese may contain less actual cheese and more artificial ingredients than real cheese.

How Can I Tell if My Cheese is “Real”?

The best way to determine whether your cheese is real or processed is to read the label. Look for words like “cheese”, “pasteurized process cheese”, or “cheese product”. If the label says “cheese”, it’s real. If it says “pasteurized process cheese”, it’s a blend of real cheese and other ingredients. If it says “cheese product”, it may contain less than 51% cheese.


While “real cheese” and “processed cheese” each have their own advantages and disadvantages, the key is to understand what you’re eating and make informed choices. Whether you prefer the complex flavors and textures of real cheese or the convenience and consistency of processed cheese, knowing what’s in your food can help you make healthier and more satisfying choices.