10 Best American Cheese Substitutes for Various Flavors and Dishes



Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m the founder and chief editor at cookerybarn.com. I'm by no means a trained chef but I enjoy good food, fiddling around in the kitchen, and trying out the latest gadgets. My goal is to create a place where anyone interested in cooking and learning about the kitchen can get easy-to-follow practical advice. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.
The main image of the article on American cheese substitutes shows American cheese slices on a wooden table.

It’s hard to imagine a Burger without a few slices of American Cheese. It’s one of the most common ingredients in sandwiches millions of American kids take to school, so saying it’s popular would be a huge understatement.  

Being a processed cheese type, American cheese may be tasty, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Even though it’s tasty, there are many people who’d rather have something healthier in their dishes. If you’re looking for the best American Cheese substitutes, you’ve come to the right place. 

In my opinion, the best alternative to American Cheese is any natural (unprocessed) cheese made of cow’s milk, like Cheddar. For cheese connoisseurs that want to upgrade their palette, I warmly recommend trying all ten American Cheese alternatives listed below.

What is American Cheese?

You’ll find American Cheese when you order a burger in almost any restaurant; in your local delis; and pretty much anywhere where groceries are sold. It is an umbrella term that unifies dozens of unique varieties, most of which are fairly inexpensive.

Most types of American Cheese have a moderately firm & creamy texture, and a salty flavor, and what glues them together is the fact that they melt very easily. It’s not uncommon for makers of American Cheese to blend several kinds of cheese to create this type, such as cheddar, Velveeta, or Colby cheese. 

10 American Cheese Alternatives

When searching for American Cheese alternatives, you have several options at your disposal.

Whether it be a kind of cheese that has a similar taste to the American Cheese but is firmer/softer or something with the same feel but a different flavor, I’m sure you’ll find a substitute that will appeal to your taste:

No Cheese Substitutes Taste Texture Fat Level Lactose Level
0 American Cheese Distinctly salty but mild Semi-hard ≈45% 0-14.2%
1 Colby  Mild and buttery Semi-hard ≈31% 1.6-5.2%
2 Monterey Jack Mild and buttery; available in many flavors Semi-hard ≈30% <1%
3 Velveeta Mild and sweet Soft 8% 9.3%
4 Muenster Mild, nutty, and buttery Semi-soft ≈19.1% <1%
5 Swiss Cheese Sweet, mild, nutty Firm-to-hard ≈71% 0-3.4%
6 Havarti Mild, buttery, sweet Semi-soft 35% <1%
7 Cheddar Sharp, nutty, buttery Hard 30-40% 0-2.1%
8 Mild Gouda Moderately strong, mild, fudgy Semi-hard 48% 0-2.2%
9 Fontina Sharp, nutty Semi-soft to Hard ≈35% <1%
10 Pepper Jack Sharp, spicy Semi-soft 17.8% <1%
10 Substitutes for American Cheese with basic characterization

American Cheese Alternatives with Milder Flavor

American Cheese is famous for its salty flavor. It may be perfect for sandwiches and burgers, but you may want something with a more “neutral” taste for your salad-based dishes or snack toppings, such as Colby, Monterey Jack, Velveeta, Muenster, Swiss Cheese, or Havarti. 

Colby Cheese

In my opinion, the mild-flavored, easy-melting Colby cheese is closer to American Cheese than anything else. After all, numerous brands of American Cheese use Colby as the main ingredient before adding different spices, flavors, and various edible components. 

Although Colby cheese is good wherever it’s placed, it’s ideal in the classic homemade Mac & Cheese. To prepare this simple meal, follow these steps:

  • Heat your oven to 375F and spread 50g of baguette chunks across a piece of baking sheet; bake for roughly six minutes until baguettes are crisp
  • Boil 350g of short pasta for around two minutes and drain excess water
  • Optionally, sprinkle thinly chopped garlic and add a teaspoon of mustard powder to the mix
  • Cook for an additional minute while whisking 500 ml of whole milk inside, then simmer for five minutes
  • Melt 50g of Colby cheese and pour it over the macaroni 

Monterey Jack Cheese

Monterey Jack is mainly different from American Cheese in terms of looks. While the former is usually yellow or orange, Jack is a white semi-firm cheese made of cow milk. Its taste is very similar to the mild saltiness of American Cheese, but it has somewhat of a sweet aftertaste. 

Since I prefer making my snacks personally, I love using Monterey Jack cheese as the main ingredient in my Queso dip. In less than half an hour, you can make beautiful, creamy queso, and the best part is that even beginners can easily master this recipe:

  • Heat two tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized saucepan
  • Once the butter has melted, add two tablespoons of flour and gradually add a large cup of whole milk to the mix
  • When the queso begins to boil, lower the heat settings and throw half a teaspoon of onion powder into the saucepan
  • Optionally, add one-eighth of a teaspoon of garlic powder as well
  • Shred 8 oz (or one full package) of Monterey Jack over the mix and serve

Velveeta Cheese

If Monterey Jack and Colby weren’t commonly marbled with other cheeses to produce certain versions of American Cheese, Velveeta Cheese would’ve been my go-to American Cheese Substitute when it comes to pursuing the near-identical taste, flavor, and texture. 

Just like American Cheese, Velveeta is a widely beloved kind of processed cheese. The soft, outstandingly creamy texture of this cheese makes it perfect for all recipes you’d normally use American Cheese in, such as mac & cheese, taco dips, and sauce-based toppings. 

Best of all, you can experiment with any dish, and I’m sure you’ll find Velveeta a perfect match. One of my favorite recipes including Velveeta at the center is the homemade Velveeta sauce, for which you’ll need to do the following:

  • Rub a thin slice of butter to oil your saucepan and set the heat to a high-temperature setting
  • Grate and melt 16 oz of Velveeta cheese 
  • Constantly stir the mix while gradually dropping 5 oz of thinly diced tomatoes inside 
  • Add a quarter of a cup of milk to make the sauce even creamier 
  • Add two teaspoons of cumin, and one teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Optionally, if you’re looking for a hot sauce, add a teaspoon of hot chili powder 

Muenster Cheese

Unless we’re talking about decades-old Muenster cheese wheels, you shouldn’t expect to be blown away by the taste of this type of cheese. It has one of the mildest flavors on the spectrum, which makes it an ideal appetizer. 

What makes it an excellent American Cheese alternative is the fact that it has a remarkably low lactose level, which is usually much below 1%. If you are preparing a meal for a large group of people and don’t want to guess whether some of your guests are lactose intolerant, serve Muenster slices along with kosher salami before the main course. 

Swiss Cheese

Of all gourmet-level cheeses, Swiss Cheese is probably the mildest-tasting one. Its nutty, sweet taste is distinctly different from American Cheese but close enough to serve as a viable alternative. 

Among all ten cheese types on this list, Swiss cheese melts the best, so I recommend using it as a dip for your favorite chips, crackers, bagel crisps, raw vegetables, or tortillas. 

Havarti Cheese

Havarti is one of the softest, creamiest, and most buttery cheese types on the list, and on paper, it has little in common with American Cheese. However, its elastic texture and mild taste make Havarti an excellent choice for salad-based dishes. It goes extremely well with spinach, so you may want to give this recipe a shot:

  • Mix 150g of baby spinach, 250g of sliced ham, and one segmented orange in a bowl
  • Season with ¼ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup of orange juice, and a tablespoon of cranberry sauce
  • Optionally, add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • Place thinly cut wedges of Havarti cheese between the vegetables and ham

American Cheese Substitutes with Stronger Flavor and Firmer Texture

The salty flavor of American cheese is not too intense and could easily be overwhelmed by ingredients with a particularly strong taste and aroma, such as crushed onions or rutabagas. If you’re looking for a cheese that has a more powerful taste, let me recommend Cheddar, Mild Gouda, Fontina, and Pepper Jack. 

Cheddar Cheese

Slightly harder in texture and with a bit sharper taste compared to American Cheese, Cheddar is a good substitute for dishes where you want the cheese to have a more impactful role. 

Unlike American Cheese, Cheddar is a natural dairy product and is far healthier to consume. Although everyone loves grating a big chunk of this cheese on pasta and sandwiches, I recommend using it on homemade extra-cheese pizzas. For the purpose of simplicity, I’ll assume you either know how to make pizza dough or that you intend to buy pre-made ones:

  • Preheat the oven to 500 F
  • Mix a handful of basil with a single crushed clove of garlic, then sprinkle across the dough
  • Add desired toppings, such as salami, tomatoes, olives, etc. 
  • If possible, use a handmade tomato sauce and spread it evenly 
  • Grate 150g of Cheddar across the dough 
  • Place the dough on a baking sheet and place it in the oven for about 10 minutes

By the way, there are also some pizza cheese substitutes you may want to try.

Mild Gouda Cheese

Gouda comes in a variety of flavors, and the closest substitute for American Cheese is mild gouda cheese. 

Gouda is a very soft cheese made of cow’s milk that resembles American Cheese in both color and texture. Since many of Gouda’s variations tend to be quite sweet, I recommend mild gouda for recipes you’d normally use American Cheese in, such as the filling for Pigs in a Blanket:

  • You will need 8 unfrozen hot dogs
  • Heat your oven to 375 F and place the hot dogs inside once warm for one minute 
  • Make a thin cut at the center of your hot dogs once they’ve cooled off
  • Insert thin slices of Gouda into the hot dogs 
  • Wrap the hot dogs in the dough, and insert them back into the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes

Fontina Cheese

Fontina is slightly firmer and sharper in taste when compared to American Cheese, but it also has a much higher fat content (45% while American Cheese has only 30-32%). It can make any meal far more nourishing but also heavier and harder to digest. 

On the upside, Fontina is almost completely lactose-free. It is a natural cheese that can serve as a great sandwich topping for people going on a diet or simply wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle. 

Pepper Jack Cheese

Monterey Jack comes is a brand of cheese that comes in a variety of flavors, and Pepper Jack is arguably the most popular one. It is identical to the classic Monterey Jack in terms of texture while it features a handful of extra ingredients, such as bell peppers, herbs, or chili peppers. 

You can use this cheese for your cream queso if you can’t find quality chili spices and ingredients in your local delis. In my opinion, Pepper Jack is the ultimate American Chili Cheese substitute, although its exceptionally sharp flavor may not be for everyone’s tastebuds. 

Other Questions about American Cheese

Are there any dairy-free alternatives to American Cheese?

Daiya offers Dairy-free American-style vegan cheese slices. It is the closest vegan alternative to standard American Cheese, boasting a similar taste and flavor. 

Is Mozzarella the same as American Cheese?

No, Mozzarella is an Italian traditional cheese originally made of buffalo’s milk, whereas American Cheese is made by marbling several types of different cheeses. 

What is the healthiest alternative to American Cheese?

Swiss Cheese has the highest healthy fat level and is widely regarded as the healthiest alternative to all processed cheese, including American Cheese.

Can you freeze American Cheese?

Yes, American Cheese can be frozen, but it will lose some of its texture and flavor.

Conclusion: There are Good Alternatives for American Cheese everyone should try

American Cheese is widely available and fairly cheap, but it’s not an exquisite delicacy that your tastebuds will remember for more than a couple of minutes after you’ve finished a meal. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to American Cheese with a creamier texture, Havarti and Velveeta are your best options. There are many substitutes that feel the same but have a more distinct, sharper taste, such as, for example, Fontina cheese.

Did you find your favorite replacement yet? Let us know in the comments.


About Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m the founder and chief editor at cookerybarn.com. I'm by no means a trained chef but I enjoy good food, fiddling around in the kitchen, and trying out the latest gadgets. My goal is to create a place where anyone interested in cooking and learning about the kitchen can get easy-to-follow practical advice. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.
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