Why Do Some Cheeses Melt Better Than Others?
Ever added your favorite cheese to an omelette or cheese sauce, only to have the resulting dish turn out grainy, stringy, or oily? Unfortunately, not all cheeses melt the same, and choosing to heat the wrong cheese can wreak havoc on your dinner (and render Instagrammable cheese pulls impossible).
Why Some Cheeses Melt — And Some Don't
Moisture: A cheese's ability to melt well depends on a number of factors. The first — and perhaps the most important — is moisture. A cheese with more moisture will also have more loosely packed milk proteins, which separate more easily when heated. That's why a harder, drier cheese like Parmesan becomes oily and greasy instead of creamy, as compared to a moister, already naturally runny cheese like Brie, which melts the second it's warmed.
Fat: Cheeses also melt better when they're higher in fat. If you've ever tried to melt low-fat or non-fat cheese, you'll have seen this in action, but this is also true for cheeses whose fat content is naturally lower. Compare high-fat Leicester and lower-fat Swiss, and you'll see first-hand how the former melts easily, while the latter becomes stringy when heated.
Age: Finally, the age of a cheese has a lot of impact on how well it will melt. Younger cheeses tend to melt more easily than older ones, so a younger cheddar will melt much better than an aged one. Older cheeses like aged cheddar are actually poor melters and can become grainy or oily when melted.
How it's made: Certain cheeses will also have a harder time melting based on how they are made. Stretched cheeses like mozzarella and provolone, for example, will become stretchy or oily rather than thick and creamy. Good for cheese pull; bad for cheese sauce.
Acidity: Some cheeses are also too acidic to melt well, like paneer, feta, and ricotta. These are generally cheeses that were curdled with acid rather than rennet. They're often great cheeses for grilling or frying, because they hold their shape even when heated.
How to Make Cheeses Melt Better
While some cheeses are naturally better at melting than others, there are ways to encourage a poor melting cheese, like richly flavored cheddar or gruyère, into the base of a luxuriously gooey sauce.
Another way of encouraging a poor melting cheese to melt better is to add acid. Melting cheese into white wine is a common technique used in Switzerland to make cheese fondue.
Whichever cheese you choose to try to melt, be sure to grate it before attempting to melt it, to keep from having to heat it for too long. And carry out this essential step yourself! Pre-grated cheese is usually coated in starch and may become grainy when melted.
The Best Melting Cheeses for the Ultimate Cheese Pulls
With this in mind, here are seven of our all-time favorite melting cheeses.
High-moisture, bloomy rinded cheeses like Brie and Camembert are already half-melted at room temperature, so it's no surprise that they are fantastic melting cheeses. Remove the rind before melting if you want a smoother sauce, or bake the cheese whole, as in this Baked Stuffed Brie recipe, for the perfect gooey appetizer.
Raclette cheese is similar to other Alpine cheeses like Gruyère or Comté, with a nutty, almost brown butter flavor. But as opposed to these harder, drier cheeses, raclette is high in both moisture and fat, making it a perfect melter.
The most traditional method of enjoying this cheese in its native Switzerland is in a dish of the same name, where the cheese is either heated on a special apparatus for this purpose or sliced and heated in small frying pans over an electric grill placed right on the table. The freshly melted cheese is drizzled over potatoes, pickles, and charcuterie.
Cheddar cheese is a favorite for mac and cheese or nachos, but its cousin red Leicester is actually a far better option. Leicester cheese is 35 percent fat as compared to cheddar's 32 percent, which makes it melt far more easily and silkily than cheddar.
4. American Cheese
Cheese snobs may scoff, but American cheese is one of the best melters out there — precisely for the reasons that most turn up their noses at it. American cheese is made with scraps of cheese that are emulsified together with acids and phosphates. These help discourage the cheese from clumping or becoming stringy, making American cheese the best option for a silky nacho cheese sauce or a super soft omelette filling.
Mozzarella certainly won't melt like the rest of the cheeses on this list, but it is the king of the cheese pull. Mozzarella is made using a technique called "pasta filata" or string dough. The milk is processed so that it forms elastic strings which are then kneaded together into the balls of mozzarella. As a result, the cheese stretches into strings when heated, making it a favorite not just for pizza but also for Fried Mozzarella Sticks or a panini with impressive cheese pull action.
6. Soft Goat Cheese
Goat cheese is another contender that won't melt the same way as other cheeses on this list. Made using acid rather than rennet, goat cheeses tend to become grainy and hold its shape when melted. But the water in a super young goat cheese will actually help the cheese melt easily. Stir goat cheese into just-cooked pasta for a smooth, creamy sauce you'll love.
Gorgonzola can be sold at a variety of ages and textures, but creamy, soft gorgonzola dolce is high in both fat and water. With a texture that's already half-melted before you begin, it lends itself quite well to melting into a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce to drizzle over meat or a richly-flavored risotto.