If you eat a lot of cheese these days, and according to surveys most every one does, chances are good that you've been eating some imitation cheese as well as the real thing. Not that it isn't good for you or will do you any harm, but the United States Dairy Industries Association estimates that imitation cheese could account for as much as 5 percent of US cheese consumption.
Just how much imitation cheese is made or consumed in the US is difficult to determine because no public organization measures its production, distribution, or consumption.
The most popular cheeses for imitating, it seems, are Cheddar, American, and mozzarella.
An increase in the production of these cheeses in the last three years is attributed to a combination of advances in food science and consumer demand for lower-priced, convenient products.
Imitation cheeses are labeled as such for a variety of reasons and include products which do not meet the standards of ``identity'' for real cheese because of a change in ingredients.
Some grated Italian style cheeses which contain added whey or other ingredients, for example, fall into this category.
Another class of ``imitation'' cheese is the non-dairy product, made from vegetable oils, sugars, a protein source such as sodium caseinate, and other ingredients.
Some of these products -- like imitation cream cheese -- are not nutritionally equivalent to the products they imitate. By law they must be labeled as an imitation; they also may be marked ``non-dairy product'' and sometimes carry a nutrition label.
When shopping always read the label and compare prices.