How to Get Picture Perfect Melted Cheese
By Chanie Nayman
We’ve all seen it; those videos or shows where the cheese is perfectly melted, glistening as it’s slowly poured over a delicious looking plate or pan of pasta. And then we’ve all wondered: why does mine not look that way?
There a million uses for beautifully melted cheese. It can dress up any number of vehicles, from pasta to bread and even vegetables. Some of our favorite recipes require melting cheese. There are the more common ones, like Baked Ziti and Lasagna. There are the slightly more intricate ones, like Fettucini Alfredo or Spinach and Artichoke dip.
But no matter what you’re ultimately making, it’s important to get the basics right first. Well, don’t start adjusting your oven just yet. Here is a guide to getting that perfect glistening cheese just right- no professionals necessary!
- Low and slow. Don’t crank up the heat because you’re in a rush. This is a ‘haste makes waste’ kind of situation. You’ll probably end up wanting to redo the dish if you rush the cheese melting stage. You can even use a double boiler if you’re worried you might be distracted in the kitchen. If you are in a rush, grate your cheese, or make sure it’s in really small pieces. If you apply too much heat to the sauce, it will separate, and at the end of the day, you’ll be left with an oily mess.
- Pick the right cheese. Mozzarella and cheddar are great choices. Low-moisture cheeses, like parmesan, don’t melt well.
- The Down Low. Low-fat cheese will melt decently, but fat-free doesn’t melt well at all. Full-fat cheese gives a creamy smoothness you will never get from the lower-fat cousin.
- Add alcohol? Um, sure. Wine actually adds an element to cheese that prevents it from seizing up and getting clumpy. Apparently, wine helps the cheese stay moist, and the acid in the wine helps prevent the cheese from separating.
- Where to start. A basic cheese sauce starts with a roux of melted butter and flour whisked together. Then the liquid (milk in this case) goes in, the heat gets cranked down, and in goes the cheese.
- Shut the lid. Don’t be afraid to cover your cheese sauce; it keeps the heat in, which causes the cheese to melts evenly and quickly. Don’t do this for more than a minute or two though!
- So Starchy. If you are using this on a pasta, don’t rinse your pasta! The residual starchiness on the pasta helps “glue” the delicious sauce to the pasta
- Beat the Heat. It’s inevitable that for a holiday that requires preparing a lot of foods, you will want to make basics in advance. When preparing a pasta dish, keep the components separate. Your pasta should be made in advance and tossed in a bit of oil so it doesn’t clump. If you prepared a tomato sauce, you can prep that in advance also. Your cheese sauce should be the last thing you do. If you are reheating already-cooked pasta, make sure there is enough moisture to keep if from getting hard as a rock and drying out. Also make sure your sauce is thick enough to still coat the pasta and not just give it a greasy coating.
- Freezer friendly. if you plan on freezing a lasagna or stuffed shells, make sure to undercook the pasta- or even better- cook it halfway and then freeze it. Add a hefty sprinkle of mozzarella cheese before you return it to the oven for good measure.