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The Rules of Melting Cheese

Guidelines for success prevent a stringy mess

Fine Cooking Issue 83
Photos: Scott Phillips (cheese sandwich) and Amy Albert (burger)
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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.

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.

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.

Be gentle with the heat.

Choosing the right cheese is important, but that’s not the only secret to success. You must also treat the cheese kindly during cooking. Even if you’re using the perfect cheese for a dish, too high a temperature or too much heating time can make its proteins tighten up, squeezing out both water and fat. Result: rubbery globs of protein awash in a pool of grease. When this happens to pizza (and it often does because pizza is baked in such a hot oven), it’s not the worst thing in the world, but when it happens to a cheese fondue, you’ve got a flop on your hands. And, unfortunately, these changes aren’t reversible. But there are a few steps you can take to keep your cheese from meeting this sad fate:

Amy Albert

The names of the cheeses in this table are generic, because cheeses go by many names and may have many variations. One farmer’s artisanal Swiss may not be the same as the Swiss made by another farmer on the Alp down the road.


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  • cookingbymarc | 06/13/2021

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