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Something suspiciously cheesy about Velveeta shortage

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Can you believe it? Just when we need it most, there might be a shortage of Velveeta.

The marigold-coloured cheese product that melts so smoothly may be missing from your grocer's shelves -- it doesn't require refrigeration -- just as the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl loom. Football fans are facing a dip crisis.

An enterprising reporter for Advertising Age discovered the possibility of a Velveeta shortage when customers noticed there wasn't any to be had in a couple of East Coast grocery stores.

A call to Kraft elicited this response: "Given the incredible popularity of Velveeta this time of year, it is possible consumers may not be able to find their favourite product on store shelves over the next couple of weeks."

Jody Moore went on to say that she expected this to be a short-term issue, amplified by the fact that this is peak Velveeta season. You heard me. Peak Velveeta season.

Americans spend about $500 million a year on Velveeta, and I am guessing most of it is consumed during January and the first Sunday in February.

Foodies turn up their noses at Velveeta, "the cheese for people who can't cook." But they know there isn't any cheese better for making queso, the preferred dip among football fans.

Kraft has even linked arms with competitor ConAgra, which owns Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chilies, to promote the idiot-proof queso ingredients.

But I am suspicious.

It is possible this is an artificial shortage designed to panic football fans and drive up sales, just like the canned pumpkin shortage and the pre-Thanksgiving turkey shortage. All this will do is encourage Velveeta hoarding. A Facebook friend said he is selling his extra Velveeta on eBay.

I wouldn't be surprised if there will also be an artificial chip shortage, blamed on a poor corn harvest. Or a guacamole shortage, blamed on an avocado blight in Southern California. We are at the mercy of greedy dip merchants, people.

A columnist for the Chicago Tribune blamed Obamacare for the Velveeta shortage and said it was part of the government's war on cheese. Soon, he ventured, our pizzas will consist of only sauce and dough.

After years away from Velveeta -- my cheese of choice as a child -- I have returned to its familiar melted goodness. I have a grandson now, and he loves penne swimming in a little milk and melted Velveeta. My daughter, the food police, who makes her macaroni and cheese with six different artisanal cheeses and a fresh breadcrumb crust dotted with butter, is horrified.

I confess to finding myself, sleepless at 4 a.m., making some penne and Velveeta for myself. (I felt bad about this until a fellow grandmother admitted she was now addicted to Kraft mac and cheese from the box because of her granddaughters. "But that's not cheese. That's orange dust," I said. "I know," she said, "and all that sodium.")

I am not sure exactly what Velveeta is made of, even after reading the side of the box. It was invented in 1908 by Caleb Hommel of Monroe, N.Y., and sold to Kraft Foods in 1927. It had the seal of approval of the American Medical Association in the 1930s, but in 2002 the Food and Drug Administration warned Kraft to stop calling it a "pasteurized process cheese spread." Kraft started calling it a "pasteurized prepared cheese product," a distinction that is lost on me. And on everyone who loves a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. On white bread. With lots of butter in the fry pan. Someone stop me.

My advice is, buy up all the Velveeta you can and store it in your basement with the rest of your survival supplies, like bottled water, batteries, flash lights and a first-aid kit.

If disaster strikes, you are going to want an easy recipe for dip.


Susan Reimer is a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.

--McClatchy Tribune Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2014 A9

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