Manufacturing Taste

24 March 2014Food

I finally got around to reading Sasha Chapman’s history of Kraft Dinner from the September 2012 issue of The Walrus:

J. L. Kraft, who had grown up on a dairy farm in Ontario, headed off to Chicago a decade after the world’s fair. Fascinated by the promise of innovation, he resolved to find a modern, more profitable way to distribute cheese. Even at the height of production, the quality of Canadian cheddar available domestically remained variable, in part because the best was reserved for export. “No matter how wholesome it was when it left the manufacturer, it often reached the market in a state of extinct virtue,” observed Kraft, who had seen the amount of spoilage and waste first-hand, while working as a clerk in a general store in Fort Erie, Ontario. He arrived in the US with $65 and a plan to launch a wholesale cheese business.

There he joined the ranks of dairy experts who were searching for ways to make cheese production more efficient. All cheese is an ancient expression of “milk’s leap towards immortality,” as Clifton Fadiman so poetically put it, and an extremely effective method for preserving a dairy surplus. You need just three main ingredients: milk, rennet (to curdle it into a solid), and microbes (to convert lactose into acid, which deepens the flavour and prevents the curds from spoiling or harbouring disease).

As someone that still eats the odd box of KD Original, this was both an intriguing and an upsetting read.