How To Make Homemade “American” Cheese

homemade american cheese

I have made my own yogurt, and I’ve made my own butter….but I have never attempted to make my own cheese. It’s been on “my list” of things I want to eventually try, but fairly far down because I figured it was pretty complicated. That was until I ran across a recipe for American Cheese that sounded quite easy! Besides, I was really craving a good grilled cheese sandwich…so I decided to go for it.


processed cheese

I don’t know about you, but when I think of “American Cheese” I think of something like Kraft Singles. But Kraft Singles aren’t really “cheese”…they are a “pasteurized prepared cheese product” and contain a highly processed mixture of ingredients such as water, milk, milkfat, milk protein, whey, food coloring, flavorings, and emulsifiers.

Doesn’t sound very appetizing does it? So how come they are so dang delicious in a grilled sandwich or melted over a cheeseburger? I’ll tell you why…because American cheese has great MELTABILITY! (completely made up word there.)

Luckily there is a way to make your own “processed cheese” with just a few pantry items and some “real” cheese thrown in that is every bit as gooey delicious as its Kraft counterpart but much better for you.


homemade american cheese

Homemade American Cheese

Adapted from a recipe at America’s Test Kitchen

Makes 1 pound

Homemade “American” Cheese


  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • 12 ounces Colby cheese, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon powdered milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk


homemade american cheese

Line 5 x 4-inch disposable aluminum loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing excess to hang over sides. (I only had a bread loaf pan available, so I ended up doubling the recipe and using that.)


homemade american cheese

Mix water and gelatin in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes.


homemade american cheese

Combine cheese, milk powder, salt, and cream of tartar in a food processor and pulse a couple of times until combined.


homemade american cheese

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan and remove from heat, then stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved.


homemade american cheese


homemade american cheese

With the food processor running, slowly add hot milk mixture to cheese mixture until smooth, about 1 – 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.


homemade american cheese


homemade american cheese

Immediately transfer cheese mixture to prepared pan. Wrap tightly and chill at least 3 hours.


homemade american cheese

Then when you unwrap it a few hours later……..


homemade american cheese

…….get ready for the best grilled cheese sandwich of your life!


homemade american cheese

By the way….the cheese can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 month.


homemade american cheese

I can’t wait to make it again and add some coarse ground black pepper….or maybe some jalapenos! :-)



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      • CTY says

        I have not made this recipe before and am only talking in theory at this point.
        If you don’t have a food processor or blender–why not try buying a super fine shredded Colby (or hand shredded on a fine grate) and mixing everything up in a free standing mixer like Kitchen Aid. I would avoid the whisk paddle & go with the batter paddle.

        • Jaunnette says

          CTY, I would, IF ONLY I had a free standing mixer! It’s on my list of WANT, right along with a food processor. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and break out the blender, see if I can’t turn out something edible.

      • Jaunnette says

        Well! I finally got around to trying this with a blender, and it worked! At least, I think it did, my cheese hasn’t had time to chill, but it tasted wonderful and got all nice and mixed together. I couldn’t really “blend” the dry ingredients with the cheese, so just ended up shaking it up together in the blender before adding my hot milk and gelatin. I followed your recipe exactly except I used 2% (didn’t have whole thawed out). My son is not a big fan of the “melty” block cheeses, but he was pretty impressed with this.

    • Kandy says

      I have done this on the stove and the trick is you need to whisk it and don’t have it on high. You want to just get the cheese to melt and combine with the liquids. I have only used cheddar too, but it still works good.

  1. Terri S says

    yippee!! i stopped buying ‘plastic’ cheese products years ago, but sure have missed that american grilled cheese—this is terrific! now, where do i find whole milk powder? i’ve only seen the non-fat at the grocery store.
    i just heard about using mayo to grill the sandwich instead of butter last month in janell’s “saving you dinero” blog–we tried it and love it–it doesn’t add a mayo taste, just a richness that’s hard to describe–it’s delicious!
    thanks, jillee.

  2. Kathy Simkins says

    You might try a place that sells food storage and survival items. I think Morning Moo and some of the other dried milk products have a higher fat content than what you typically get in the grocery store. I wonder how evaporated milk would work in this recipe? I will have to try it. This looks so much easier to make than the cheddar cheese my mother in law used to make. Probably tastes much better, too. Wouldn’t rennet work as well in getting the cheese to set up as the Real cheese?

    • CTY says

      A favorite for the holidays for us a homemade-ish cheese ball. In that recipe cream cheese is used to hold the ball together. I’m pretty sure cream cheese is vegetarian (albeit not vegan). In that recipe the cream cheese it is very soft when blended in. Then refrigerated in the coldest part of the refrigerator & it holds form pretty well. Maybe that can work for you in place of the gelatin.
      Other options may be agar-agar or carrageen. There are also some vegan kosher gelatin–Carmel’s unsweetened gel. Hope this helps.

    • Paul says

      You could also try Xanthan gum.

      Use xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is produced from the fermentation of a carbohydrate. If substituting xanthan gum for gelatin, use half the amount of xanthan gum that the recipe suggests for the gelatin. For example, if a recipe requires 2 teaspoons of gelatin, only use one teaspoon of xanthan gum.[13]

      Below is a link that will have different variations of gelatin substitutes depending on your needs. :)

      I hope this helps everyone.

  3. says

    Above and beyond once again, Jillee!! Since switching to a real food diet, I have been missing out on the fake pasteurized cheese — american and velveeta… woohoo, I can’t wait to try. I don’t have a food processor so I am going to figure a way to make it work, I am usually able to… :)

    • says

      I switched over to a new email server and we’re still working through some kinks. You can try resigning up (in the upper right hand corner of my blog). If that doesn’t work you might just have to wait until we get everything working correctly.

  4. Sally says

    I learned from my cheesemonger :o) to rewrap the cheese in a new piece of plastic wrap each time you take a slice from the block. Helps prevent the cheese from being introduced to bacteria/oxygen.

  5. KD says

    You can still get real American cheese at the store. It’s just super expensive compared to the fake stuff. (almost $6 a pound) As long as it says “pasturiezed process cheese” instead of cheese food or cheese product, it’s real. I think Land o Lakes sells it unsliced.

    Good idea if you can’t get the real thing in your area though!

  6. Comet says

    Glad some one mentioned the fact that this is indeed making–cheese–from–cheese! Just as long as you have already got the “other” cheese needed—

    I have made real cheese–from real milk from animals I milked myself–lots of times. And nope–it does not (unless it;s mozzarella) have that meltability.

    The reason it does not is milk proteins as I understand it. For melting cheese–like raclette and others–these have to be different than the ones in cheddar etc.

    The “faux” cheese in the individual wrapped plastic is –whether from Kraft or a no-brand name—made mostly from OIL. Yep. Not “cheese” at ALL. And the reason they need to wrap it? If they did NOT it would smoosh back into a brick like Velveeta. This is one of the differences between say Land O Lakes REAL American Cheese sliced at the deli–and Velveeta or “Kraft Slices”. I am not exactly sure HOW these are made but it involves some form of small cheese “off cuts”–I was told at a cheese making plant I visited that if their batches FAIL they get SOLD to Kraft FOR these “Slices”!!!!—-and oil mixed with some form of binders–which could be milk powder, gelatin etc. Very little actual CHEESE in there tho.

    For the Land O Lakes type I gather that the recipe involves mozzarella type cheese and some cheddar and actual CHEESE mixed and molded. I will have to ask to see the outer wrapper on one of the slicer bricks one of these days!

    Remember the days of “Government Cheese”? That was some sort of velveeta wanna be in huge bricks that were warehoused. I heard then that these were not really meant to be given to the public but were the basis cheeses for the “Slices” and somehow these deals were brokered to get them out of the Govt warehouses. Dunno if this is entirely true. Like that gasoline the Govt is said to be hoarding–who knows! But makes you wonder where some of this stuff COMES from–and how LONG this stuff can keep!

    There are home made recipes out there where you start from milk and comne up with nice cheese–for those interested in going beyond making cheese from–cheese!

  7. Joey says

    Question….I recently bought some cheddar cheese powder…’s dehydrated cheese. It’s okay for cheese sauces, etc., but we don’t eat that very often. How do you think I might use it in this recipe?
    It won’t make up the bulk of the shredded cheese.


  8. CTY says

    So funny–my DIL and I were just talking about making cheese. I was going to make mozzarella, but after seeing this maybe I’ll start here. DH loves the “singles” maybe he can be converted to a healthier cheese. I never really thought of “embellishing” one cheese to mimic another.
    Thanks for lighting a fire under me.

  9. patricia says

    The only thing I´m missing is color. I would try annato seed for yellow coloring. Annato is a seed used in many latin american countries to add color to food. I would add a few seeds to the milk since the high temperature would help release the color. Be sure you strain the milk before adding it to the rest of the recipe.
    I would try guar gum (also comes from a seed) if you want vegan substitute to gelatin (I´ve never tried ti though).

  10. Leah says

    Oh! I have been trying different recipes for Cheese Zombies but they call for nasty “fake” cheese and I just can’t feed that to my family (besides it tastes like chemicals to me). It needs some meltability though so I’ve been in a bind. Yes it’s cheese from cheese but a healthyier option than Kraft singles folks! Thanks Jillie!

  11. Lisa says

    Someone in an earlier comment mentioned using pre shredded cheese. Those products are usually coated in something to keep them from sticking together, which would probably affect the finished product.

  12. Connie says

    For those of you disappointed that this recipe takes cheese to make cheese, that’s what processed cheese is, no matter who makes it. Velveeta, any cheese spread, LOL American, all are made with another type of cheese as the base. Most mass produced cheese products also add many fillers not listed on the label, which enables the finished product to hold more water. If you want real cheese made from milk, enzymes, and culture, not fillers, you need to buy from a small creamery.

  13. betty says

    You have to start with yogurt to make yogurt due to bacteria required to start the process. Making real cheese does not require cheese to begin with. It’s the gelatin holding this product together…not any protein structure usually related to cheese.

  14. mdoe37 says

    Mmmm this was very good!! I made it with reconstituted powdered milk. Better than velveeta! I don’t see why you couldn’t use almond or other milks as its simply heated and added to retexturize the Colby.

  15. Bonnie Ellerbe says

    My family LOVES homemade pimento cheese, I usually buy Land O’Lakes white American at my local Walmart Deli; yes, it’s on the pricey side, but so much better tasting than store bought pimento cheese. Your recipe looks like it would be perfect for making pimento cheese. Easy recipe: grate 1 lb. white American Cheese, add a large jar, (4 oz.) diced pimento, do not drain, and 2 Tbs. sweet pickle relish, and mayonnaise to the consistency you like. More or less pimentos, and pickle relish can be used, it’s what your family likes that makes it good! I have a set of small loaf pans that will be excellent for making your cheese Jillee, can’t wait to try it! Thanks for sharing…..

  16. Carol A. says

    My grandson was laughing at me at the grocery store when I told him I needed Colby cheese to make cheese! I just finished it and it is in it’s 3 hour getting cold stage. A couple comments here. I used Colby cheese, not colby jack and it turned out yellow. Also I had to add much more milk to get it to a smooth consistency. It never was pourable though. Probably added an extra 1/2 cup milk. I don’t have a food processor either so used my VitaMix blender. It did not work for mixing the grated cheese with the salt, cream of tartar and milk powder. I just mixed that by hand. (I used instant nonfat dry milk powder.) Don’t know why it never got pourable. The only thing that I can figure is maybe that I left the geletin sit in the water for too long. Definitely longer than 5 minutes! But the finished product so far seems very good. It reminded me of Cheez Whiz. That is about the consistency it was. Also tasted like it. I’m thinking it is going to be comparable to Velveta. So anxious to try the grilled cheese. Haven’t really liked them in the past but that could be because I don’t care for the processed slices! We will have it for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the recipe Jillee! Love your blog! It is the bestest!!!

    • Carrie says

      Thank you Carol, the same thing happened to me…not able to pour it and yellow in color. I didn’t add more milk and it seemed set up right away. I am totally excited to taste the grilled cheese and to try this again with different types of cheeses. Any ideas Jillee for different types of cheeses to use? I love your blog and all of the comments are so helpful! Thank you for all that you do!

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