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About Melting Cheeses

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    About Melting Cheeses

    Some cheeses melt beautifully for sandwiches and sauces, others don’t. Here’s why.

    As we discussed when we discussed emulsions, fat and water don’t like each other, so a middleman, an emulsifier, is required to get them together. In cheese the middleman is casein proteins that forms a mesh for the fat and water to cling to.

    The meltiness of a cheese depends on how much water in the cheese and well the proteins do their job of holding the fat and water together and this is determined by two things, how the milk is coagulated into curds when the cheese is made, and the age of the cheese.

    Cheese is made by adding something to milk that gets the fat and water to clump and form curds. The curds are then aged. Curds are made from milk in two ways: (1) by adding acid such as citric acid, vinegar, or lactic acid or (2) by adding rennet, an enzyme from the stomach of a suckling calf.

    Acid-set cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese don’t melt well because the acid messes up the proteins and the electrical charges that hold them together. As a result, the proteins tend to clump and bond together squeezing out water in the form of whey. As they are heated when you cook with them, they tend to break, the fat runs out and the proteins remain clumped.

    Rennet-set cheeses such as cheddar, mozzarella, and brie contain proteins that have a looser grip on each other even though they feel solid when chilled or even at room temp. Most European cheeses are rennet-set. As they are heated the fats go from solid to liquid, the proteins become unbonded, the two mix, and the cheese flows.

    Age is also a factor. Young cheeses melt more readily. In older cheeses such as Romano, aged cheddar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, there is less water and the bonds between proteins are stronger so that the fat melts before the proteins come apart causing it to "break".

    The standard melting cheese for things like grilled cheese sandwiches or cheeseburgers is American cheese, but young cheddar is also common. If you want to veer from the norm, go for other melty cheeses such as asiago, brie, camembert, ementhaler, fontina, gruyere, jack, jarlsberg, mozzarella, muenster, provolone, raclette, reblochon, Swiss, taleggio. For an accent, add a small amount of a hard cheese such as provalone, Parmigiano-Regianno, Peccorino Romano, Peccorino Toscano, or gjetost. They are all pretty reliable melters when young. Some cheeses, like gouda, melt well sometimes and other time, not so much. This is often a byproduct of how they are stored. Those coated in wax tend to have problems melting. It’s not the wax, it’s the nature of the cheese.

    Spoken like a cheesehead! 👍👍👍. 🕶



      Are you looking for typos? The first line of paragraph 3 is missing several words:

      "The meltiness of a cheese depends on how much water is in the cheese and how well the"


      • FireMan
        FireMan commented
        Editing a comment
        Me thinks it matters if one is speaking cheese-ese or not.
        Actually, the meltiness of the cheese depends on how melty it is.


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