4 Things You Didn't Know About Nacho Cheese

We know it’s golden, supremely melty, and totally all-American, but just what defines nacho cheese?
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There are few foods that aren't improved by a dollop of nacho cheese. 

Ahh, nacho cheese. It’s one of those all-American foods that people either love or hate, or love and hate simultaneously. Ooey gooey, creamy, golden, and oh-so processed, it’s an indispensable part of American life, so much so that it even comes in a spray can. But perhaps we should take a step back and ask, “What exactly is this stuff?” Here are four things that you probably didn’t know about nacho cheese.

It Doesn’t Have Anything to do with Nachos
Nachos, in their original form, are quite simple: tortilla chips, a little bit of cheese, and a slice of jalapeno. The earliest cheeses used on nachos were, well, real: freshly grated Cheddar and its ilk, for example. It wasn’t until nachos entered mass-production that the cheese used on them began to be pre-melted.

The Name is Meaningless
While there’s a generally accepted definition of what nacho cheese is—melted processed cheese with peppers and other spices—it’s not a legal term. It isn’t like Brie, for example, which is regulated (not just any old cheese can be called Brie); there is no standard ingredient list, process, or quality that legally defines “nacho cheese.”

Most Concession Nacho Cheese Comes from One Producer: Ricos
Ricos calls themselves the “originators of concession nachos,” and they call their product “an aseptically processed ready-to-serve cheddar and jalapeño cheese sauce.” The ingredients include cheese whey, modified food starch, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, Cheddar cheese, jalapeño peppers, sodium phosphate, salt maltodextrin, vinegar, MSG, mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, natural flavors, and artificial colors.


Howard Cosell Helped Popularize It
According to the Ricos website, nacho cheese as we know it was introduced at the beginning of the 1976 football season at Arlington Stadium in Texas, and it was such a hit that every 2 ½ patrons bought nachos, leading to $80,000 in sales in the first year. Howard Cosell was given an order and loved it so much that he raved about them on Monday Night Football and for weeks afterwards mixed the word “nacho” into his commentary, giving the dish national recognition.