What do you get when you combine Cheddar, Swiss and Provolone into one gooey cheese? If you're a resident of Missouri, you probably already know, but for the rest of the country — allow us to enlighten you. We just can't keep our state secret or our undying love for this super tasty treat quiet any longer!Provel was originally invented in St. Louis, Missouri back in 1947. (It is now owned by Kraft.) Local pizza owners turned to Costa Grocery (now known as Roma Grocery on the Hill) and the Hoffman Dairy of Wisconsin to help them create a cheese that melted, but didn't leave long "cheese strings" when you took a bite. Most typically found on IMO's pizzas, the cheese has been adopted by other Italian eateries around town. You can find message boards filled with praise for this white cheddar, swiss and provolone combination, and Missouri natives who have since moved elsewhere in the country are having this tangy taste sensation shipped to them to get their hometown-taste fix.
Provel, like American cheese, doesn't meet the FDA's requirements for moisture content in cheese, so it's labeled as a "Pasteurized processed cheese," but that doesn't stop anyone from enjoying its taste. It's softer than mozzarella and turns to lava once it hits the oven (and retains that temperature for a solid 10-15 minutes after being out of the oven). It makes pizza eating super tasty in many places around Missouri, but in our own personal kitchen, we use it to make the best macaroni and cheese ever.
We've heard of several pizza joints around the country using Provel (usually run by Missouri transplants) on their pies, so keep your eye out for it on a menu near you. It can be found in local grocers (and many in Chicago) by either the brick, the bag or in these tasty extruded "worms" which is our favorite way to eat it. It's like string cheese but not dry and far more satisfying. Oftentimes we buy two packages, one for snacking on and the other for use in an actual dish or meal.
There's a Facebook page dedicated to helping people track down the food outside of Missouri, but if that seems like too much work, next time you head to The Show Me State for business or pleasure, make sure to sample this tasty local ingredient!
Related: In Praise of American Cheese
(Images: Sarah Rae Trover, Wikipedia, Daniel Zemans for Serious Eats)