Having spent the past few months in Europe, I learned there are some things that no one does quite like Americans: air conditioning, super wide roads, and processed cheese products. So, when I saw news of the Velveeta Martini (aka the Veltini) available at BLT Restaurant Group’s eateries across the country, I figured I’d give it a shot. What better re-entry into the United States than with a hyper-marketed, capitalism-driven, processed-cheese-infused bastardization of a once elegant classic? The Veltini is a monstrosity that leaves you gawking. It’s the perfect marketing scheme.
I made my way to BLT Steak in Midtown, Manhattan, just blocks from the tower owned by a former president who, like the martini, represents the hideous worst this country has to offer. The long and elegant bar was dimly lit and a friendly bartender handed me a menu filled with creative takes on classic cocktails. Instead, I swallowed my pride (and my desire to order a Last Word) and requested the Veltini with my tail between my legs. (Side note: wouldn’t “Velvetini” be a much better name than “Veltini”?)
My first couple of sips were surprisingly unremarkable. The intense flavors of olive brine and cold vodka overpowered all else. But as the cocktail sat, warming up, and my tastebuds let down their defenses, I was suddenly assailed by the distinct but transmogrified flavors of processed cheese product.
In the process of its vodka bath, all of those cheesy, nostalgic flavors Velveeta can have—from your cafeteria mac and cheese or the dip mixed with a can of Rotel your favorite neighbor used to make—are stripped away. What is left is an oddly creamy vodka that tastes of the chemicals used to make processed cheese product. Just minutes after the initial shake and pour, sections of the fat separated from the vodka, leaving the drink with clumps made up mostly of cheese product fat residue, and other sections that were just sodium-citrate-infused martini. I struggled to finish, but I did, of course. The sacrifices we make for art.
The garnishes, however, told a different story. While the cold pasta shells speared onto the toothpick were inoffensive, the Velveeta-stuffed olives were a thing of beauty: creamy, oozing cheese contrasting with the briny green olives.
Our bartender (who seemed equally horrified by the glowing orange monstrosity he was being forced to serve) explained that BLT’s lead bartender had created a much more tolerable drink: a Velveeta-infused tequila sour with a cheesy Tajín rim. The martini I was drinking was merely what Velveeta corporate requested of them. Velveeta’s failure to use the expert’s recipe and instead stick to its own concoction indicates to me that this gimmick isn’t about the quality of the offering.
The Kraft Heinz marketing team must be living by the adage that all publicity is good publicity. And damn it if I’m not playing right into the brand’s hands by writing about it. Much like the campaign of the (similarly orange) aforementioned president, this campaign is playing on our emotions—shock, horror, disgust—to become a topic of conversation. It transformed itself into the circus freak and drove me to buy a seat for the show. And unfortunately, it worked: I’ve thought more about Velveeta in the last week than I have in years past, and I’ve been craving queso. Fake cheese and manipulative marketing: there’s nothing more American than that.