Provel cheese is an unholy mashup of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone that is consumed only within the St. Louis metropolitan area, specifically on pizza. Takeout contributor Clint Worthington has written that it “basically tastes like a classier Velveeta.” This is a charitable description. In terms of texture, it resembles plastic. It is gummy, not gooey. If you didn’t grow up eating it, you will never understand its appeal, and you will never be accepted as a true St. Louisan. But, if you grew up in St. Louis and never learned any better, this is the taste of home and childhood.
This may explain the impulse behind a St. Louis ice pop company’s decision to team up with a local bakery to sell a Provel-flavored popsicle. Childhood! Innocence! Happiness! Isn’t that what a popsicle is?
“Honestly? It’s way better than you’d think,” writes Poptimism, the ice pop company, in a Facebook post. That doesn’t inspire much confidence, but it could also be interpreted as classic Midwestern humility.
The popsicle isn’t savory, praise the Lord. Poptimism added some honey to the mix. This, the company claims, makes the it taste like cheesecake and “home.”
The Riverfront Times, the city’s alt-weekly, was appalled. “To take this ‘cheese’ and use it as inspiration for a popsicle is unconscionable,” wrote staffer Jaime Lees. “Remember when bread-sliced bagels were the source of national embarrassment? Now we’re going to be shamed again when the outside world finds out about this.”
This isn’t so much about Provel itself, but about civic pride. St. Louis is a beautiful city with some legitimately great food. But over and over again, it is ridiculed in the national media by people who never bother to get to know it at all. (I say this with the authority of someone who lived there for five-and-a-half years. Since my great-grandparents did not grow up there, I was never considered a real St. Louisan, but the place grows on you: by the end of my time there, I was enthusiastically rooting for the Cardinals and eating multiple slices of Provel-topped pizza.) The St. Louis-sliced bagel thing was a marketing scheme, invented by Panera Bread. But this popsicle is the work of actual St. Louisans. Please remember, everyone, this is a very small sample of St. Louisans. They do not represent the city and its food as a whole. Please have mercy.