The Surprise Cult Following of Kraft Old English Cheese
In every family cookbook, there exists a favorite recipe that relies heavily on a crucial, oft-times "secret" ingredient. My mom's famed pot roast, for example, owed its wonderful umami flavor to a package of Lipton "Secret Recipe" (how apropos) onion-mushroom soup mix. When that particular version of the mix disappeared from our local grocery shelves, mom tried in vain to replace it with another Lipton mix, and while she's gotten close, the roast has never tasted quite the same.
Likewise, my brother insists Karo syrup provides the crucial flavor and texture needed for his pecan pie. All other syrups—corn, maple, treacle, molasses—need not apply.
But for some—no, make that many—folks, the secret ingredient they can't live without is a curious creation known as Kraft Old English cheese spread.
What is Kraft Old English Cheese Spread?
I pride myself on my knowledge of obscure food products, especially retro ones. But I'll admit that I had never heard of this stuff when I first stumbled upon it on the Goods website. It was the "Old English" in the name that really piqued my interest and inspired me to do a quick Google search. And, just like that, I tumbled down a rabbit hole. A processed-cheese, pot-luck-party-laden rabbit hole.
At its most simple, Kraft Old English cheese is a sharp, tangy processed cheese meant to be spread on a cracker. Some who have tasted it compare it to Cheez Whiz; others to those popular port-wine cheese spreads manufactured by brands like Merkts and Kaukauna. But those same reviewers also make it clear that Old English cheese is not exactly the same as those other cheeses. It is unique. Different. Special—though none can put into words exactly what makes this cheese spread the king of cheese spreads.
Chalk It Up to Nostalgia
It turns out there's a good reason I've never crossed paths with Kraft Old English cheese before: if the stories I've read online are to be believed, this once-ubiquitous cheese is now notoriously difficult to find in grocery stores. Because of this, die-hard Old English cheese fans have had to turn to the internet for their fix, often buying the stuff in bulk. Find any online discussion on the topic and you'll likely find a string of reviews similar to the ones below, which were borrowed from Kraft's website:
- 3 months ago
Where can I buy the Kraft Old English cheese in the jar?? Help
- 12 days ago
Every holiday we make a broccoli recipe that uses this cheese with butter and Ritz crackers. I've tried to sub the cheese out for other ingredients (Cheese Whiz, Velveeta, spray cheese, cheese ball, etc.). I know this little jar of golden goodness is expensive, but there is no substitute.
Like the reviewers above, many online commenters have fond memories of the stuff, especially its use in some special-occasion dish made by their mother or grandmother in decades past (the '70s are the most commonly mentioned years). Do a little Googling and you'll find forums filled with dedicated home cooks desperate to find a replacement product for the elusive spread in their mother's famous cheese ball/salmon dip/tuna-noodle casserole. Will a mixture of cream cheese and sharp cheddar work? Survey says: no. How about some doctored-up EZ cheese? Don't even think about it. Again and again, these determined home chefs arrive at the same conclusion: that beloved dish from childhood is simply not the same without Kraft Old English cheese spread.
Old English Cheese and Crabbies: a Perfect Marriage
If there's one Kraft Old English cheese-spread recipe that turns up time and time again in these online forums, it's crabbies.
What are crabbies? If the internet serves me right (and really, when has it served me wrong when it comes to obscure '70s foods?), crabbies are a beloved '70s-era appetizer consisting of cheesy crabmeat spread atop an english muffin and toasted under a broiler. The crabbies recipe is pretty simple: crabmeat (obviously), plus some mayo, a sprinkling of garlic powder, and, most importantly, AN ENTIRE JAR of Kraft Old English cheese.
Anyone who has ever tasted a crabby, it seems, has basically gone bonkers. And searches for crabbies recipes have gone up over the last few years, thanks, in part, to the appetizer's role in the movie (and book) Silver Linings Playbook. Even a big-time chef like Paula Deen has a crabbies recipe in her repertoire.
And yes, it calls for Kraft Old English cheese.
Do you have a recipe that calls for Kraft Old English cheese spread? Or do you just love the stuff on its own? We want to hear from you! Share your opinion below: