Cut the cheese

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Cut the cheese

Why do we recoil (or at least why do I recoil) at the prospect of a cheese-flavored cocktail?

Back in the summer, the marketing wizards at Kraft introduced an appalling promotional cocktail, the “Veltini,” a drink made with Velveeta-infused vodka. It’s appalling because cheese-infused vodka is one of the nastiest things I can think of. Take the movie Papillon: A prisoner in a Godforsaken prison island, starving on half-rations in solitary confinement, Steve McQueen is reduced to eating millipedes. Offered a Veltini, McQueen turns it down.

Actually, I made up this last bit, but I like to think that the King of Cool would rather starve than be caught with a Velveeta cocktail in his hand.

One could say it is silly and stodgy to object to a cheese cocktail on the grounds that cheddar was made to be food, not drink: stodgy, because that would suggest one was unwilling to try something new, perhaps even challenging; silly, because cheddar is often served in liquid form — a lovely soup of hot cheddar and potatoes garnished with bacon and chives. One might even drink such a soup out of a double-handled soup bowl, which is not at all unlike bringing a cup to one’s lips.

The Wall Street Journal noticed a few years ago that soup sellers (not to be confused with Soupy Sales) were rolling out liquefied vegetables meant for drinking — in what the Campbell Soup Company called “sipping soups.” But it seems the public was not clamoring for it. Campbell’s has all but given up on its “sipping soups,” using the slogan in fine print on a few of its offerings in the “Well Yes!” series, which features such flavors as “Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato.” Add some vodka to that if you like, but please leave me out of it.

At least one drinkable soup does come to mind as a classic cocktail. Take a nice, cold gazpacho, add some vodka and a celery stalk or two, and you have a perfectly presentable Bloody Mary. Then again, we may be far more willing to drink a glass of Bloody Mary mix than sip a soup of the same flavor and consistency.

Perhaps the most common use of cheese in cocktails is to put it where the pimento goes in a Martini olive. It’s not a terrible idea, or at least it wouldn’t be if the cheese in question weren’t almost always blue cheese. I will not eat blue cheese, if you please. I will not eat it in a box. I will not eat it with a fox. And I’m not about to eat it in a martini, be it Shropshire, Stilton, or Wensleydale.

Why do I recoil from cheese cocktails? For starters, they are stunt drinks, mixtures made as pranks, the drinking of which is done not for pleasure but to meet a dare. And nothing says “dare drink” like a shooter, the type of drink from which the Veltini evolved.

Long before the Veltini shtick, the cheesier sort of bartenders had in their repertoire the macaroni and cheese shooter. The basic idea was to shake up a mixture of powdered cheese, milk, vodka, and macaroni and then let it sit long enough for the flavors to blend. Strain the liquid into a shot glass and then top it with spray cheese. Not only is it not very nice, taste-wise, it is an embarrassment, taste-wise. Drinks with cheese are suspect enough. Drinks with processed, pressurized, cheese-like substance extruded from a can are right out.

You know, dear reader, that I will do most anything for you. But I see no reason to try the Veltini. Not with a mouse. Not at a steakhouse. I was surprised that BLT steakhouses conspired with Kraft in offering the drink, as the cocktail was unworthy of the restaurants’ excellent bars. I will not drink a Veltini. I will not drink it at BLT.

A limited supply of Veltini “kits” were made available online as part of the original Kraft promotion. I’m happy to say that they sold out long ago. That so many people were willing to buy vodka and Velveeta fixins may be a sad comment on debased American culture. But at least the unavailability of the drink kits meant I didn’t have to make the cocktail and taste-test it.

Eric Felten is the James Beard Award-winning author of How’s Your Drink?

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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