We all know that cheddar melts when heated. But why does your cheddar not seem to melt well as it should? There are several factors that can affect the melting behavior of cheddar cheese.
Cheddar is old and hard.
The first factor is moisture content. Cheddar is a hard cheese which has been aged or cured for several months. This curing process gives the cheese its distinctive flavor, texture, and color. It also causes the cheddar to become drier, and less likely to melt well unless moisture is added. Consequently, when cheddar is melted, it tends to stay together and can become oily or grainy instead of melting into a smooth consistency as other cheeses do. For the best melting results, look for a younger mild cheddar cheese rather than the aged sharp or extra sharp cheddar.
Weak binding structure
Along the line of aging, another factor that affects the meltability of cheddar is its proteolysis. Proteolysis is the process of breaking down casein proteins during the long ripening stage. Cheddar cheese is aged for a minimum of three months, but some types are aged for two years or more! During this curing process, the proteolysis increases as more calcium (to hold the shape) dissolved out of the structure, resulting in a weak binding protein structure. This causes the cheese to become soupy-loose stretchy and more clumpy when it melts. Oftentimes, there’ll be a lot of free oils.
The acidity level of cheddar cheese is another factor that affects its meltability. ‘Cheddaring’ is a process used in the manufacturing of cheddar cheese, where acidity is further increased. Some cheesemakers will also add acid directly.
For better melting, acidity levels in cheddar can be adjusted between 4.9 to 5.4 on the pH scale, and this varies based on how long it has been aged. The higher the acidity (lower pH level), the sharper and more robust the flavor; however, the acidic environment also makes it more difficult for the cheese to melt as the casein network will attract and clump together, for example, the acid-set cheeses like paneer and feta.
Melting Ability: Natural Cheddar vs Pre-Shredded vs Pre-Sliced Processed
If you shred your own cheddar, it’s pretty normal to see natural cheddar cheese not melt perfectly — with a little clumpy, greasy or even watery — especially the aged cheddar. For packaged shredded cheddar, it has to do with the ingredients and manufacturing method. Many brands will add modified starch or cellulose powder as an anti-caking agent to prevent cheddar from clumping together when melting. So, it actually tends to melt evenly and thick gooey and also pull better.
For pre-sliced cheddar, such as Kraft Single cheddar or Velveeta Cheddar, these are heavily processed and added with many additives, such as emulsifiers and stabilizers to help them melt better. Thus, it will melt quite nicely with good consistency for all sorts of recipes.
So how to melt it the right way?
There are many ways to melt cheddar — there’s basically no wrong way — just make sure you use regular cheddar. Some vegan cheddars are specifically made to melt and stretch more almost like ‘real’ cheddar cheese, while others don’t melt at all. We’ve discussed more vegan cheddar and melting in this article.
The best way to melt cheddar evenly is on low heat with a gentle stirring motion instead of applying high heat directly as it can cause the cheese to burn or become grainy. For instance, you can melt it in a microwave, on the stovetop, steam or bake it. You can use the oven to make cheddar crisps easily, read how. Cheddar starts to soften and melt around 150°F (66°C). Without a microwave, you can try to use a steamer, slow cooker, double boiler, or others.
Slice or cube it smaller for easy melting. Do remember to shred the cheese while it’s still cold out of the fridge, and allow it to come to room temperature. Otherwise, it may become soft and mushy which can be difficult to shred later. If you are using a microwave, make sure to use the low heat setting for short intervals until you get the right consistency.
Alternatively, If you want to melt cheddar for a smooth thick cheese sauce, just heat it slowly with some butter, milk, cream, and flour. The use of these ingredients will thicken up the sauce and make it smooth. Just remember to add a bit of salt for flavor.
To use in soup, you’ll need to make sure to add starch in low simmering to prevent cheese clumping. it’s best to add the cheddar shred towards the end, watch this video on how to make broccoli cheddar soup.
That’s all you need to know about melting cheddar cheese. Cheddar is a good all-rounder cheese that is full of flavor, and melts well too. The key to melting cheddar cheese is not to melt it directly in high heat, but always shred it first and slowly melt it with low heat. That being said, try experimenting with different brands, and younger cheddar will usually have a better flow. You can also try spraying a bit of water on top before melting it if it’s too dry.