Let’s take a quick step back from the title. Nacho cheese is a real cheese in that it is made from cheese, but turns out it’s not a real kind of cheese.
And we’re not talking “not real” in some sort of moral obligation to say that cheese you can pour out of a can or is a powder used on Doritos doesn’t deserve to call itself cheese. Nacho cheese literally has no technical definition – as recently uncovered by Bloomberg writer Venessa Wong.
The FDA has definitions for cheeses like cheddar, gruyere and parmesan, but that’s not the case with nacho cheese. According to Peggy Armstrong from the International Dairy Foods Association, “There is no definition or standard for nacho cheese. She says it is not a type of cheese and that she's never seen a ‘typical’ nacho cheese; each company that makes a nacho cheese product has a different recipe.” For example, Doritos gets its distinct flavor with cheddar and Romano cheeses while Old El Paso uses cheddar and blue cheeses. And that stuff you buy at the movie theater remains one of life’s great mysteries