Cheesemaking is a time-tested and aged art, but the process is only half of the story! The history of cheese is not quite as simple as you might think, and it can connect us back to some of the most iconic figures of the past. From politicians to pop stars, join culture intern Emily as she dives into history and learns about the cheese culture during the life and times of some of America’s most famous faces. Last week we learned how Rosie the Riveter and cottage cheese carried America through WWII. This week we’re taking a closer look at the chart-topping singles of Elvis and cheese.
In 1954, a new sound hit the radiowaves, sending America into a rock ‘n’ roll craze: Sun Records released 19-year-old Elvis Presley’s first recording, “That’s All Right (Mama)”. An instant local hit, the song steadily grew in national popularity and Elvis quickly found himself at the forefront of the music scene. Listeners were struck by the singer’s blend of cultural influences: he had a Southern boy charm and sang with a soulful, bluesy tone. Having been deeply impacted by African American jazz and blues artists based in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis blurred the lines between traditional expectations of black and white music. On the cusp of a cultural revolution, American teens found Elvis’s music addictive and inspiring. In the 1950s, the young musician recorded some of his most popular and controversial songs, including hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”
At the same time that Elvis was recording his biggest singles, another type of single was making a prominent appearance in Americans’ kitchens nationwide. Rebounding from two consecutive decades of economic hardships, the United States in the 1950s was comparatively wealthy and noticeably on the rise as a powerful global force. With its abundance of positivity and prosperity, America thrived in more ways than simply being the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Healthy salaries allowed average, middle-class families to purchase housesb;in the newly developing suburbs, and disposable incomes meant more spending. Mass-production in the US was taken to a whole new level, and consumerism was at an all time high as everyone strove to own their own piece of the American dream.
In this era of streamlined production, even cheese was standardized. James L. Kraft’s lesser-known brother, Norman, had a cheesy dream. Although the company’s signature processed American cheese had already been on the market for several years, Norman envisioned a new product where each slice of cheese was uniformly cut prior to purchase. Thanks to an innovative system of chilled slicing, in 1950 the company released blocks of American cheese that were pre-cut; all you had to do was peel away each individual slice. Marketed as a luxury product, the cheese single was the solution to every housewife and hostess’ worst nightmare. The 1950 edition of Modern Packaging Magazine raved, “All of the handicaps of store-sliced cheese — variations in thickness of slices, slivered edges, imperfect packages, drying out, curled ends, etc. — are overcome.”
Although it was not until 1965 that each slice was individually wrapped, the revolutionary cheese singles initially appealed to consumers for their sleek and easy-to-use uniformity. The same cannot be said for Elvis’s edgy music and performances, and the early years of his career were characterized by a generational divide of lovers and haters.
Elvis had a notorious love of home-cooked comfort food. This Southern-born boy never strayed far from his culinary roots, and his Graceland cooks always had staple items like fried chicken and country gravy on-hand. One of the King (of Calories)’s favorite snacks was peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fried to perfection with lots of butter. What grilled cheese sandwich might you serve to Elvis in order to satisfy his fatty food cravings? Share your answer in the comments section, and you can win a free issue of our latest print edition! Comments must be posted by Tuesday, November 18, 2014 to be eligible to win. Winners must be located in the continental US. Good luck!Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of RelicEclectic via Etsy