Top tips for cooking with cheese
This article was originally published in October 2014
Gooey, creamy melted cheese falls into the “irresistible” category for many people. But even with experienced cooks, sometimes cheese just doesn’t cooperate in cooking — sauces break or oily pools appear on the surface. Choose your cheese wisely and control your temperature, and you’ll get consistently good results.
A certain age
The longer a cheese has been aged, the more likely it is to break and separate rather than melt smoothly. But, older cheeses have deliciously complex flavors that are hard to replace. There are two solutions. You can use a blend of the younger cheeses (aged 6 to 12 months) to add depth of flavor without compromising the melting qualities, or you can combine your favorite extra-sharp aged cheddar with a softer, bloomy rind cheese like Camembert. The rich smoothness of the Camembert is the perfect complement when melting more crystalline aged cheddar.
Semi-hard and hard cheeses should be grated rather fine before cooking; microplanes are effective, but box graters or food processors make quick work of it. Semi-soft and soft cheeses are nearly impossible to grate, so cut them into very small pieces. In both cases, use cold cheese straight from the refrigerator as the chill adds firmness that will help in processing. Grating on waxed paper keeps things simple — just lift the paper by its edges and funnel the cheese straight into your recipe.
The lowest moisture cheeses are hard grating cheeses, such as Parmesan and pecorino. These cheeses stand up to the high heat of a broiler better than semi-hard, so they’re well suited to crispy casserole toppings. When making a stovetop sauce or soup with higher moisture cheeses, keep the liquid at a low simmer and add the grated cheese in small batches, to prevent grittiness and make sure it melts smoothly.
Did you know?
Many recipes toss grated cheese with a little flour to slightly thicken the melted cheese. Cornstarch or refined gluten-free flours work fine — just avoid the textures from whole grains.
Our recipe for Super Cheesy Baked Macaroni and Cheese is made with four types of cheese for the perfect combination of gooey center and crispy topping.