Melted cheese has given us many beloved dishes. From Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, and Great Britain we have inherited our lasagnes, fondues, quesadillas, and Welsh rabbits. America is nothing if not a melting pot—of cheeses, as well as ethnicities. But melted cheese has also given cooks many headaches. Sometimes it just doesn't melt the way you want it to. You'd like it to be smooth and saucy, and instead it turns stringy, or it separates, or maybe it won't melt at all.
Getting your desired results isn’t always easy because cheese doesn’t melt in quite the same way that simpler substances do. But by following three simple rules you can increase your odds of success.
Rule No. 1
Use the cheese the recipe calls for, if you can.
This might sound obvious, but I mention it because I know how tempting it is to substitute a little bit of this for a little bit of that when you’re cooking. With cheese, that’s not always a good idea.
There are well over a thousand distinguishable cheeses, and it’s no exaggeration to say that they are made by a thousand different methods. This embarrassment of variables guarantees that no two cheeses will have exactly the same properties -- they’ll differ in appearance, flavor, and texture; and, alas, they’ll differ in their melting behavior, too.
Over time, various cultures have created dishes that show off the unique qualities of their local cheeses. You’re better off sticking to the tried and true -- you’ll never be able to make a saucy Swiss fondue from a stringy Italian mozzarella (just try to dip a piece of bread into it).
But what if you don’t have the exact cheese specified in a recipe or what if you just want to throw together a cheese toast, a vegetable gratin, or a quesadilla? You’ve been cooking for at least (fill in the blank) years, and you know your way around the kitchen. So, is there room for creativity instead of the unquestioning use of every recipe’s chosen cheese? Sure there is, if you follow my second rule:
Rule No. 2
Choose a cheese that’s known to melt the way you want it to.
The problem is, when you’re shopping for cheese, you can’t necessarily predict its melting behavior by scrutinizing its appearance or the nutrition information label. Cheeses melt in lots of ways, and you can’t depend on seemingly similar cheeses to melt identically. One semisoft cheese might behave quite differently from another for reasons that are as complex as the cheeses themselves.
But there’s no need to plow through dozens of scientific research papers on the properties of melted cheese. All you really need to know is that cheeses fall into three broad melting categories: stretchy and stringy, smooth and flowing, and non-melting. When you want to get creative, check the lists below, choose a cheese that has the melting characteristics you want, and you won’t go far wrong.
Now, one more rule: