Kraft cheddar cheese was created in America in the 1900s by James L Kraft who had moved from Canada. Cheesemaking was transformed in America when Jesse Williams established the first cheese factory in 1851, in New York. The factory started as a father-son venture. It was conceived, in parts to cover for the son’s poor cheese making skills. While America had plenty of culinary expertise, American’s were not good at cheese making. Most early cheeses were homemade and consumed at home. However, some were sold in local markets.
Jesse Williams’ factory commenced cheese-making buying bulk milk from New York surroundings and pooling it to make cheese. Williams’ commercial cheese making was more viable and American cheese more decent. Since then cheese factories spread like wildfire throughout America. It became a growing business. Cheese industry soon honed in on a single type cheese which was cheddar. Generic cheddar cheese became so common that Americans called it ‘store cheese’ or ‘yellow cheese’. Cheddar was unique, adaptable and proved to be manageable in colonial conditions. It also tasted great despite extreme temperatures and humidity that other European cheeses could not experience.
By 1890, Americans got serious about cheddar cheese that they were exporting cheddar to England, the homeland of cheddar. Despite the trade growing British connoisseurs looked down on it, judging ‘Yankee cheese’ was inferior to traditional cheddars. The poor reputation made American cheese cheap in the market and the British commoners quickly bought up.
Then came along James L Kraft who moved from Canada to Chicago in 1903 with $65.00. He bought a horse and wagon and commenced to wholesale cheese. Kraft, in view, to reduce waste, packed cheese in jars, and then tried cheese canning. The Swiss by then were already canning cheese.
James Kraft then tried something completely different. He started shredding refuse cheddar, re-pasteurised and by mixing in some sodium phosphate, Kraft produced a wonder that we all know as American process cheese. Kraft cheddar cheese conceived. It was then patented in 1916. Kraft cheddar cheese proved to be an immediate commercial success and a boon to American soldiers in the World Wars. By 1930 Kraft cheddar cheese had a market share of over 40% in American consumption. This was despite its relatively high price. Kraft’s clever advertising enabled to charge more in exchange for a promise of safety and product consistency.
In the meantime, ‘natural’ cheesemakers lobbied the government to have Kraft cheddar cheese separated from real cheese. The government established labelling laws for cheese-like products that was not favourable for Kraft cheddar cheese.
Fred Walker, the Melbourne entrepreneur, was experimenting with cheese processing. By learning about the process that had been developed and patented by James L Kraft, he travelled to the USA and obtained the Australian rights for Kraft Cheddar processed cheese. In 1926, the Kraft Walker Cheese Company was formed in Melbourne. This was the parent company for Kraft Foods Ltd.
The new Australian business started to manufacture Kraft cheddar cheese and allied products for distribution throughout Australia and New Zealand. The first factory was located in Victoria and had plans to build more facilities in other Australian states and New Zealand. The initial plan was to buy cheddar cheese from existing manufacturers, grind the cheese, pasteurise and reform into the rectangular loaves of Kraft cheddar cheese that were so convenient for packaging. The ultimate plan was to make its own cheese.