The Best Melty Cheeses
The Best Melty Cheese
It’s getting colder and the day are getting shorter. This year more than ever, we all need some little treats to lift our spirits and help us get through the winter months. We can’t think of anything more comforting that the sight, smell and taste of melted cheese. So, dust down that fondue set or raclette machine and enjoy some melty cheese action!
Not all cheeses are equal when it comes to their melting qualities. This is a simple guide to the best melty cheese and the dishes to use them for.
Why do some cheeses melt better than others?
Not all cheeses are made for melting. Whether a cheese will or will not melt is all down to molecular science, in other words the structure of the cheese.
Cheese mainly consists of protein, fat and water. The protein strands, also known as ‘casein’, form a kind of scaffolding within the cheese and it’s these strands that give the cheese it’s shape. The gaps between the scaffolding are filled with water and fat. When the cheese is heated, the protein scaffolding breaks down, which releases the fat and water. Generally speaking, cheeses with higher fat and water content tend to melt better. This is because the more fat and water in the cheese, the weaker the protein structure, which means it breaks down quicker. This is why younger high moisture content cheeses, such as mozzarella, taleggio and brie are such reliable melters, whilst dryer, aged cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, which have already lost much of their moisture to evaporation, often just form into lumps when heated. We hate to say it, but the high water content is the reason why Kraft cheese slices melt so beautifully over your burger!
Aged cheeses have a further disadvantage when it comes to melting. As a cheese ages, it’s protein strands form into increasingly tighter clumps, making them harder to break down and less effective at binding fat and water together in a smooth matrix.
The melting rate of a cheese is also affected by acidity. Cheeses with a neutral or high acidity, don’t tend to melt. Examples of this are feta cheese and halloumi cheese. This is because the protein strands in highly acidic cheeses are really tightly bound together, which means the protein structure won’t collapse as easily, even when heat is applied, so the cheese keeps its shape, rather than becoming a melted puddle of loveliness.
Just because a cheese melts well, doesn’t mean it will stretch – something that is very important when choosing a cheese to cook with. For a fondue, you want a cheese that will melt into a puddle, but if you’re cooking pizza, a stretch is important.
Stretch is the cheeses ability to maintain its structure and not fully break down, even when pulled apart. In order to stretch. The strands of protein need to be as long as possible. As a cheese ages, the protein strands start to break down, which makes mature cheeses less likely to stretch. This is why a relatively young mozzarella is ideal for pizzas.
Another general rule is to avoid cheeses made from sheep’s milk, such as Manchego, Roquefort and feta. They have a higher protein and butter fat content, which makes them poor melters.
So…What’s Our Top 10 of Cheese Melters?
As you’d expect, some of the finest melting cheeses come from Switzerland and France, and in particular the Alpine regions, where they have been served as the main ingredient in comforting dishes for centuries. But there are also some really great British melty cheeses, that are equally as good, if not better.
Switzerland’s most popular cheese. Gruyère is sweet but slightly salty, with a flavour that varies widely with age. The best examples, Gruyère de Alpage, are made in the Swiss mountains in the summer, when cow’s graze the mountain pastures. It is often described as creamy and nutty when young, becoming more assertive, earthy, and complex as it matures. When fully aged (five months to a year), it tends to have small cracks that impart a slightly grainy texture. Gruyère cheese is generally known as one of the finest cheeses for melting and baking, having a distinctive but not overpowering taste. It is the classic cheese for any fondue, a Croque Monsieur or cheese & ham croissants.
As well as being a cheese, Raclette is also the name of a delicious traditional Swiss dish.
The name Raclette originates from the French word ‘Racler’, which means to scrape. This relates to the process of grilling the cheese and scraping it on to bowls of hot boiled potatoes. This Swiss delight is served with cornichons, pickled onions and charcuterie. The cheese has a brown leathery rind, which encases a smooth, rubbery paste that has a rich and fruity and savoury flavour.
Traditionally, the cheese was melted in front of an open fire. Nowadays there are plenty of gas and electrically operated grills that perform the melting.
Although it’s traditionally melted, Raclette is also a delicious eating cheese.
Ogleshield is a raclette-style cheese, made using beautifully rich, raw Jersey milk by Jamie Montgomery and Tim Griffey from The Montgomery Cheese making family. The cheese is washed in a special brine every 3 days to attain a slightly pungent sticky orange-pink rind, which softens the cheese and significantly intensifies its flavours. This cross between the Montgomery's cheddar and a Tomme style cheese is excellent when it comes to any cooking, as it melts brilliantly. We’d even go as far as to say that its flavour is better than French or Swiss Raclette cheese.
Taleggio is a washed-rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese, which gets its name from the region of Val Taleggio in northern Lombardy. It's one of the oldest soft cheeses in the world & is produced every autumn & winter. During maturation the cheese is washed once a week with sea water. It has a strong, pungent smell, but the taste is surprisingly mild & creamy - similar to Gorgonzola Dolce.
As well as an excellent cheese board cheese, Taleggio can also be served grated on salads and since it melts well, it can also be used in risotto or on polenta.
A delicious French cheese, produced in the Jura Massif region, in the east of France. This hard mountain cheese is matured in the darkness of special caves, where the cheese gets its unique taste, texture and colour. It is ripened for between 4 and 24 months. This is another cheese that’s perfect for a fondue. In total, there are 83 flavours that can be detected when tasting Comté, but the main ones are brown-butter and sweet, roasted nut.
6. Vacherin Mont D’Or
This amazing cheese is only made from September until March, when the cows come down from the mountains to spend winter inside the farmers’ barns. In summer the milk from these cows is used to make those other melting classic, Gruyère or Comté.
Each cheese is individually boxed and encased in spruce bark, giving the cheese a slightly woody tang. Other flavours include hints of farmyard, white wine and meadow flowers. You can decadently spoon the cheese straight from the box, or make a little hole in the rind, pour in some white wine and bake in the oven for approx. 30 mins at 220°C (gas mark 7). Serve with a crusty baguette or sourdough bread. For added flavour (not that it needs it…), the cheese can be pierced with garlic cloves and sprigs of fresh rosemary before baking. Just divine! Since it’s only available from September to March, make sure you enjoy it while you can.
A soft, washed rind and smear ripened French cheese, made in the summer Alpine pastures of the Savoy region since the 13thcentury.
The name reblochon literally translates as ‘re-milk’ or to ‘pinch the cow’s udder again’!! This refers to the practice of holding back some of the milk from the first milking. In the 14th century, farmers who grazed their cattle in the region were forced to pay tax, based on the milk yield of their cattle. To avoid payment of the tax, farmers would only partially milk their cows in the presence of the tax man. Then, once the yield had been measured and the tax man had left, the cows were ‘re-milked’. The resulting milk was then kept for consumption by the family. The milk from the second milking was lovely and rich, so the resulting cheese was delicious and creamy.
The flavour and taste of reblochon changes as it matures from sweet fruit, through to a more intense, complex flavour and a farmyard aroma. But don’t let this put you off! Reblochon is a very important cheese in Savoyard dishes such as Tartiflette and Fondue. Enjoy with a crisp white wine, light beer or sweet cider. If you prefer red wine, choose a soft red with low tannins, such as a Merlot.
8. Vacherin Fribourgeois
Don’t confuse this cheese with Vacherin Mont D’Or – they are both delicious but very different. This Swiss semi-soft cheese is made from the milk of the Fribourgeois breed of cows that graze on the Alpine grass and wildflowers all the way through the late spring and summer. As Autumn arrives, the cows are brought down from the pastures to graze on the grass and summer hay. It has a very pleasant butty flavour underpinned by notes of fresh hay and milk. It’s flavour intensifies as it melts. These days, vacherin Fribourgeois is only produced by a handful of artisan cheese makers, which means it can be difficult to find. But if you do manage to get hold of some, it’s fantastic in a fondue.
9. EmmentalerOne of the great classics of the cheese world. It is made all over Switzerland, wherever there are high altitude pastures, where it is made in mountain chalets, often by owner-operated co-operatives. The cows with their hand-painted bells graze on meadows abundant with wildflowers, grasses and herbs. This is what makes Swiss Emmentaler unique and impossible to re-produce, despite many copies around the world.
The aroma is sweet and nutty with tones of freshly cut hay and meadows. The flavour is very fruity, with a touch of acidity. This is a fantastic eating cheese, but it comes into its own in a fondue, where it is rich and creamy. It has a stringy texture when cooked, meaning unlike most hard cheeses, it does not break down in sauces. It is also perfect for a Croque Monsieur
10. BeaufortOf all the great cheeses of the world, Beaufort personifies everything that is amazing and magical about cheese. Made in the Savoie-Beaufortain region of the French Alps, where the pastures are unfenced and unploughed and covered in thousands of different wild herbs, flowers and grasses. They provide the cows that graze here with fresh grazing in the summer and aromatic hay throughout the winter. As a result, the milk they provide is sweet, aromatic and nutty. The cheese produced in the lush summer pastures is known as Beaufort D’Alpage. The winter cheeses are called ‘Beaufort D’Hiver’. The latter cheese tends to be paler as it’s made when the cows enjoy a more concentrated diet of hay cut from the summer pastures.
Although it melts like a dream, we actually think this amazing cheese is too good (and too expensive!!) to just melt on toast or in a fondue! Instead it should be eaten in decadent chunky lumps! And don’t scrimp on the wine – pair it with the most expensive bottle you can afford. We recommend a Pinot Noir, a chardonnay or a Riesling. It’s also excellent with champagne but avoid dry white wines that will take away from the flavour of the cheese.
So now you know the best cheeses for melting, here’s our guide to the best melty cheese dishes. We haven’t given you specific recipes, but there are plenty of great ones on the internet. We just thought we’d give you a brief description of the most popular melted cheese dishes.
The Best Melty Cheese Dishes:
Fondue is a traditional Swiss dish, where small pieces of bread are dipped into a communal pot of melted cheese. It was originally developed as a way of using up hardened old cheese and stale bread during winter.
The pot of cheese is heated from below, on a portable stove, using a candle or spirit lamp, that helps keeps the cheese in a constant melted state. The bread is dipped into the fondue using long-stemmed forks.
The classic cheeses used for a fondue are Emmentaler and Gruyère, but different regions Switzerland, France and Alpine Italy use a variety of other cheeses, such as Vacherin and Appenzeller in Switzerland, Comté, Beaufort and Reblochon in France and Fontina in Italy.
What ever the cheese, they are combined with white wine, garlic and sometimes kirsch (cherry brandy). Cornflour is also added to act as an emulsifier, to ensure a smooth and stable mixture.
As we’ve already mentioned, Raclette is another Swiss dish and the cousin of the fondue, but it is always made with Raclette cheese. The cheese is heated and then literally scraped onto boi8led waxy potatoes, cornichons, pickled onions and charcuterie.
Tartiflette is a cheesy potato, onion and bacon delight! It originates in the savoy region of the Alps and as with many dishes from this region, the potato is the staple ingredient. It is traditionally made from Reblochon cheese. Perfect comfort food after a day on the ski slopes.
Poutine is not the most sophisticated of dishes but it’s very tasty. It was created in the Centre-du-Québec region of Canada, during the late 1950’s and basically, it’s a mixture of chips (French fries), melted cheese curds and gravy - in other words it's cheesy chips with gravy!! Sounds like a Yorkshire delicacy to us!
So there you have it, our complete guide to delicious melty cheese!