Provel — the ubiquitous, loved/hated official cheese of STL — just received some kind words in a national publication.
Bon Appetit magazine last week ran a story, “What Is Provel Cheese,” written by a Phoenix native with a boyfriend from the St. Louis area.
And surprisingly, writer Asonta Benetti said, “I seriously dig it.”
Benetti got her first taste of the pie topper through the efforts of her boyfriend, who grew up in Quincy, Illinois, and lived in St. Louis for a time.
And as more than a few Gateway City expatriates do, the boyfriend ordered a number of frozen pies packed in dry ice from Imo’s Pizza.
Benetti described her first taste thusly:
“I paused, my taste buds trying to process this new experience. ‘It’s … different,’ I finally said, struggling to describe the creamy, buttery, subtly rich flavor.”
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She then confessed that she “proceeded to demolish my slice.”
Benetti compared the cheese to “something between bechamel and a thick, savory creme anglaise.”
Kudos to Benetti to reaching out to Imo’s to find out what exactly is in provel, and she even gave due credit to the late Joe Bonwich, former Post-Dispatch food critic who in a 2012 feature story did a deep-dish dive into the cheese’s history.
For the record, Bonwich explained that the cheese (a blend of Swiss, cheddar and provolone) dates to 1947, when a trademark application was applied for by J.S. Hoffman Co. of Wisconsin.
The Hoffman company was working with either Tony Costa or Jim Sigillito, both downtown St. Louis grocers, to develop the cheese, which officially secured its trademark in 1950.
The cheese jumped in popularity with the advent of the Imo’s pizza chain in 1964.
And while STL remains the undisputed provel capital, Bonwich’s story also revealed the tidbit that the cheese also has been sold since 1955 in Dayton, Ohio.