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Evolution of the Cheesesteak


herbacidal
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Perfect timing.

I was just at a highly thought of place in Philly today (John's) and it's the first time I've gotten a steak with a similar mouthfeel to steaks back when I was at a place making them.

The steaks we were using back then were frozen slices of beef, approximately 2"X4", can't recall the cut. To me, it seemed like basically a wholesale version of Steak-um (which is something I've never had, so I can't compare.)

Now, this is the first time I've gotten that impression, although it's possible other reputable places' steaks will have a similar mouthfeel.

The only other comparison I can draw is Pat's, which uses ribeye, and tastes very different in the mouth. Can't remember specifics about Jim's, D'Alessandro's, Frusco's.

Anyone know what cut John's uses? And where they get their steaks?

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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When I was in college I drove a meat truck for a company called Allied Steak. They were located at the foot of I-95 at the bottom of Girard avenue They sold frozen burgers, fries, hot dogs, and steaks (among others) to the grease joints on the Jersey boardwalks. Quite an operation. Their idea of refrigerated trucks was to pack these wired together with gum and duct tape trucks with frozen food and slabs of dry ice. They did make steaks and burgers on the premise. The steaks were mystery meat that were packed in 55-gallon cardboard drums marked "Product of New Zealand" and the gross weight. The meat was packed into two 4-foot L-shaped steel molds (6x8 inches wide). The molds/plates were banded and frozen overnight in a -10o walk-in freezer. The molds were then snapped apart and put onto this slicer that slip-sheet the steaks with wax paper. The steaks were then packed into 5-pound boxes and were packed 12 to a case and then they threw the cases back into the another freezer. Kinda Rube Goldbergesque, nothing pretty about it! Years later when out-of-town chef authors came in for Book and the Cook they would ask how do you know when you get a good cheese steak? I told, them that’s pretty subjective depending the neighborhood, but you can tell when you have a bad one… if you can taste the meat. :blink:

(edited for info)

Edited by marinade (log)

Jim Tarantino

Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures, & Glazes

Ten Speed Press

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  • 2 years later...

Harry Oliveri's obituary in today's Inquirer includes a brief history of the cheesesteak which his brother, Pat, and he invented back in 1930.

According to the Inquirer it took 22 years for cheese to be added. Cheez, actually. Cheez Whiz was the first to be used. It took a few more years for provolone and American to make it to the sandwich.

The generally accepted truth has always been that provolone came first and that Cheeze Wiz was a mere pretender to the sandwich. Fie on everyone who promulgated this fallacy.

Wiz rules and wiz wuz first.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I remember seeing on a television segment about cheesesteaks that the recipe for Cheez Whiz has changed over time, for the worse. Is there anything to that?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I heard a piece on NPR late this afternoon. It was an interview with Frank, the son of Harry Olivieri. He explained how his father and uncle had started with a hotdog cart in the Italian market and after several years they got tired of eating hot dogs all the time.

Harry went down the street to get some steak and a loaf of Italian bread, brought it back to the stand, grilled the steak and they had sandwiches. One of the customers asked what they were eating and why, and they answered that they were tired of eating hot dogs. The customer said, "So are we." So they started selling steak sandwiches.

Harry wouldn't let anyone put cheese on the grill, because a lot of their immigrants who came to this country were kosher and wouldn't eat meat and cheese together. So when Harry was on vacation, Frank put a pot on the grill, put some chez whiz in it to melt it, and that's when Pat's started making cheesesteaks.

HOWEVER, no mention was made as to whether or not Pat's was the first one to add cheese, or if Geno's started first, using provolone.

FWIW. :wink:

Eileen

You can find the audio of the interview here.

Edited by etalanian (log)

Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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HOWEVER, no mention was made as to whether or not Pat's was the first one to add cheese, or if Geno's started first, using provolone.

According to the Inquirer article, Geno's didn't even open until 1966, so there's no doubt that Pat's had the cheese thing going on for quite some time prior to that.

And I think the T-shirts should read:

Whiz Rulz. Whiz wuz First.

:biggrin:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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They laughed at me in the 70s when I said cheeseteaks were the ultimate healthfood. Try living to 90 eating Granola.

He was a whiz of Whiz if ever a wiz there was

If ever, oh ever a Whiz there was, the Wizard of Ols is one because, because of the wonderful things he does

Edited by CoolPapaBell (log)

Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore. It's always too crowded.

---Yogi Berra

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Harry Oliveri's obituary in today's Inquirer includes a brief history of the cheesesteak which his brother, Pat, and he invented back in 1930.

According to the Inquirer it took 22 years for cheese to be added.  Cheez, actually.  Cheez Whiz was the first to be used.  It took a few more years for provolone and American to make it to the sandwich.

The generally accepted truth has always been that provolone came first and that Cheeze Wiz was a mere pretender to the sandwich.  Fie on everyone who promulgated this fallacy.

Wiz rules and wiz wuz first.

as one of the aforementioned people who has always said that he couldn't imagine wiz being the original ingredient, can i just say WELL, SHUT MY MOUTH.

damn i'm feelin cheesesteaky. maybe tomorrow.

edited to say that according to kraft foods website here, whiz was introduced in 1953, so that pretty much makes sense with the timing.

Edited by mrbigjas (log)
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Speaking of the evolution of the cheesesteak, Rustica in Northern Liberties just added a "Tartufo" cheesesteak to their menu. As you can probably assume by the name, this has the addition of truffle cream. This is my new crack.

Definitely not a purist's cheesesteak. For instance they use Sarcone's bread (which I *really* like, btw). Very generous with the meat, and the subtle truffle flavor makes my eyes roll back in my head when I eat it. One of these with a side order of their arancine is my ultimate guilty pleasure meal for now.

If anyone's up for a change of pace, it's worth checking out.

Damn... now I have to try and make it through the rest of the day without eating one... :laugh:

Edit: and for the price of a Barclay cheesesteak, you can have 10 or 11 of these!

__Jason

Edited by guzzirider (log)
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I heard a piece on NPR late this afternoon. It was an interview with Frank, the son of Harry Olivieri. He explained how his father and uncle had started with a hotdog cart in the Italian market and after several years they got tired of eating hot dogs all the time

I, too, heard that piece, and I thought it was charming--and a textbook example of the peculiar way that foods evolve--who would have ever thought that cheezewhiz was originally added to the steak because of Kosher customers!!!

I, being a former food snob, always thought whiz was kinda low rent, and turned my nose up at it--only wanting provolone on my steak sammich--mea culpa!

Zoe

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Harry wouldn't let anyone put cheese on the grill, because a lot of their immigrants who came to this country were kosher and wouldn't eat meat and cheese together. So when Harry was on vacation, Frank put a pot on the grill, put some chez whiz in it to melt it, and that's when Pat's started making cheesesteaks.

I heard the NPR piece too, and was really struck by this point. An interesting multicultural note to the cheesesteak's origins. I bet the Olivieris took orders in multiple languages, too...

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I bet the Olivieris took orders in multiple languages, too...

I gotta get me one of them T-shirts I've heard are for sale that says:

Geno's, No Bueno!

:laugh:

Nice to hear that the competition across the street thought about the needs of all of their customers, regardless of race, creed, origin or native language.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I STILL find it very very hard to believe that Cheez Whiz preceded provalone or any iother sliced cheese in the creation of the cheesesteak. How old is Cheez Whiz anyway??

Rich Pawlak

 

Reporter, The Trentonian

Feature Writer, INSIDE Magazine
Food Writer At Large

MY BLOG: THE OMNIVORE

"In Cerveza et Pizza Veritas"

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I STILL find it very very hard to believe that Cheez Whiz preceded provalone or any iother sliced cheese in the creation of the cheesesteak.  How old is Cheez Whiz anyway??

as i posted above, it was introduced in 1953. which would be consistent with the story that about 22 years after the cheesesteak's intro, they started using it--especially if it was considered a great new product..

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I was born and raised in Philly, but I didn't make it down to Pat's/Geno's until I was about 12 years old. I'll never forget being freaked out that not only did they use Cheez Whiz, but that it was the default cheese that they used. I ordered my steaks "American wit out" for a few years until I finally broke down and tried a Whiz steak. It wasn't bad, but not good enough to for me to think that I'd been missing something all those years.

This all leads me to wondering, who else besides Pat's and Geno's (and Jim's and Rick's) sells their steaks with Whiz as an option? I know none of the local places around me offer it (I live dangerously close to Dalessandro's). It is my belief that most places use American as the default cheese, and that Whiz is only used by a handful of places in Philly.

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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I doubt there are any hard and fast rules, I see Whiz offered randomly at places out in the burbs and beyond. You can get Whiz at Tony Lukes, but not at John's Roast Pork. It doesn't seem like many lunch trucks or carts have it, I assume they don't want to kill the burner real estate keeping a can hot.

I was a provolone adherent for a long time, but a careless order at Pats resulted in my first Whiz experience, and I was converted. At least for a simple, purist "cheese with," Whiz is still my preference.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I'm pretty sure that Tony Luke's-- another top steakeria-- offers steaks with Whiz. 

Just out of curiosity, why are you freaked out by Whiz but not by American cheese?  They're both just variations on processed cheese.

I wasn't freaked out by the actual product, it was just a shock that the two most famous cheesesteak producers around used it predominantly and I was clueless about it. I like Whiz just as much as the next guy, but back then I had no idea that it was used on cheesesteaks. To me as a kid it was a bigger deal than finding out that Santa Claus isn't real.

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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I have a related question:

Are there other processed cheese "spread" products out there?

The yellow glop Aramark provides at Widener for cheese fries and similar items that call for cheese glop has a strange off-flavor that clashes with the vaguely Cheddarish taste of the sauce. I don't recall genuine Whiz having that flavor.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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