Cougar Gold Shakes Up Everything You Think You Know About Canned Cheese

From tinned brown bread to pork brains, there are plenty of canned foods that just aren't popular anymore. Thanks to improvements in refrigerated shipping, it's easier to get fresh ingredients now than in the past, so preservation methods like canning are less necessary. And today, many canned foods like cheese, for example, are chock-full of preservatives and stabilizers that should probably cause you to take pause.

However, there's one variety of canned cheese that's celebrated and sought after. It's called Cougar Gold, and it's a white cheddar-style cheese made at Washington State University, and according to its fans, the fact that it comes in a can makes it taste better.

Unlike spray cheese, Cougar Gold has a firm texture and a nutty flavor. So what makes it so different from the canned cheeses you may know? For one, it's local. All the milk comes from the university's dairy farm, where cows are milked daily by students. And two, when it comes to real cheese vs. processed cheese, Cougar Gold behaves much more like an artisanal cheddar — even as a canned product.

How Cougar Gold became so different from other canned cheeses

Cougar Gold's origin story is similar to the history of other processed cheese products. Yet, the final product couldn't be more different than what you might expect from cheese in a can. Early processed canned cheese products were invented by James L. Kraft (yes, founder of the namesake company) during World War I to send to the troops.

Similarly, Cougar Gold was created during World War II to send to soldiers overseas. Washington State University scientists wanted to develop a canned dairy product that was akin to real cheddar rather than being full of preservatives. However, they ran into a problem. When high-quality cheese ages, it releases carbon dioxide. The gas buildup caused the sealed cans to explode.

A slight recipe tweak to address this issue created an unexpected side effect. Cougar Gold still matures in flavor and texture as it ages, but it develops much slower. As Cougar Gold ages, it becomes crumblier and sharper. Some die-hard fans hold onto tins of this unusual canned food for decades before digging in.