MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Making a turn here - despite all the controversy around football right now, it is still the most-watched sport in the U.S., which means you might be one of the millions of people who plan to catch a playoff game this weekend. But if you live on the East Coast and are hoping to dig into some chili con queso or maybe some mac and cheese, you might run into problem. There's a Velveeta shortage. How can this be, you ask? And what does this mean? Well, here to tell us more about what Velveeta means to us is Adrian Miller. He's author of "Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time." Thanks so much for joining us once again.
ADRIAN MILLER: Thank you for having me on the show to discuss this extremely important topic.
MARTIN: Are you in mourning? Are you very upset? Well, you're on the West Coast, so this might not be affecting you. But...
MILLER: Yeah, no.
MILLER: So far, I checked the grocery stores. We're stocked with Velveeta. So much like we did in the '70s, as a public service, we're willing to provide - you know, we provided Coors beer back then. So, you know, we've provided - we can provide some Velveeta.
MARTIN: You're willing to share the Velveeta. Well, Kraft, which makes Velveeta, does confirm on its Tumblr page that there actually is a shortage. Do we know why they said that was some - that there's a temporary scarcity? Do we have any more information about why this is?
MILLER: Seems like it was some kind of manufacturing glitch or something. So I'm not sure. But there's definitely shortages on the East Coast.
MARTIN: Why don't you describe what Velveeta is for the maybe three people in America who don't know what it is?
MILLER: Velveeta is a processed cheese which comes in a - kind of a loaf. The reason why people love Velveeta is because it's very meltable. And you can use it for a lot of different things. So Velveeta's been with us since the late 1920s. But it really was in 1937 when Kraft kind of paired Velveeta with macaroni and put out their macaroni and cheese dinner. That's when macaroni and cheese with Velveeta just took off. It's been a huge seller ever since.
MARTIN: One of the reasons you wrote your book is that, you were telling us, you wanted to kind of recover soul food from a place where people look down on it a little bit. And you wanted to restore it to its kind of place of honor. And I wanted to ask is Velveeta kind of part of that story? Is it the kind of thing that maybe, you know, foodies look down on a little bit but that, you know, everybody else still loves?
MILLER: Right, well, a lot of processed foods have been punched in the gut lately. But, you know, just like soul food and other foods, they remind you of childhood, or they trigger some memory. And Velveeta does that for a lot families.
MARTIN: You've said that Velveeta brings people together. How so?
MILLER: Absolutely. So, you know, you've heard it said that football is our national religion, right? So Velveeta is part of the church supper, especially when you're talking about the Super Bowl. But when families are getting together to make macaroni and cheese or chili con queso, it's something that's very versatile, very convenient. And so a lot of people use it. And then it does bring back good memories. And I know a lot of people who just love the taste of Velveeta. I know that sounds strange, but I know people who dig it.
MARTIN: You said you know people who dig it. Does that mean that you are not among the people who dig it?
MILLER: Oh, no, no. I'll get down with some chili con queso and some mac and cheese with some Velveeta. I don't do it very often, but, you know, I'm not averse to it.
MARTIN: And what is it that - why has Velveeta fallen out of favor in some quarters? And why is that?
MILLER: I think it's because the backlash against just processed foods. And so people don't even think of it as a real cheese, even though it's made up of cheddar, Colby and Swiss cheese blended together. They just don't think of it as a real thing. So it's a manufactured food. And so I think that's why there's somewhat of a stigma associated with it.
MARTIN: But what's good about it is that it is velvety, right? I mean, it's very - it what? Kind of describe it, like I said, for the three people who have no experience with Velveeta.
MILLER: That's why it gets its name. They named it Velveeta because of the velvety texture. And if you're going to have a good queso - chili con queso - Alison Cook, the restaurant critic for the Houston Chronicle described this - you got to have something that's runny, but not too thin, viscous, but not too thick. And smoothness is paramount. And that's what you get with Velveeta. And it's consistent. You know, as long as you keep it warm, it's not going to get cold and unappetizing 'cause when you make queso with cheddar or Monterey Jack, that's the risk you run is that it will be kind of lumpy and not smooth. And people, when they're having a queso, they want it smooth.
MARTIN: Well, if this temporary crisis is not averted by the weekend - which, you know, we can't predict - is there any substitute that you can recommend?
MILLER: I think you can go old-school and use Monterey Jack or cheddar. And you just have to have a creamy element. So you have to have some cream or sour cream or milk. And you just have to play around with it until you get the right consistency. And then the other trick is just to keep it warm.
MARTIN: And what about for mac and cheese?
MILLER: Well, you can do the same. I mean, I like to make my mac and cheese with cheddar or Monterey Jack. But you can certainly go old-school. And people will recognize that. I know it's a looming crisis, but I think we can get through it.
MARTIN: You think we'll be OK. Adrian Miller is the author of "Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time." He was with us from Denver. Adrian Miller, thanks so much for joining us.
MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.