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Cooking with Cheese

Cook cheese

All cheeses are not created equal when it comes to cooking! Some cheeses are better suited to cooking for several reasons including chemical composition, texture and type of milk used to produce them. But which is which?

The reaction of cheese to cooking

The way cheese reacts to heat is very important. Cheese can become too runny or its consistency may become thready or crumbly. Cooking can also produce some chemical reactions that lead to browning, changes in flavour, or loss of aroma.

Milk protein, moisture content and fat content are factors that have to be taken into account when cooking with cheese. Some lactoserum proteins resist very well to variations in pH levels while others, like casein, are easily modified by acid or alkaline pH levels. When a protein is modified, its structure is destabilized, which can create lumps.

As a rule, cheeses with high moisture levels (60-80%) melt at low temperatures (30° C or 86° F) while cheeses with lower humidity level (30-35%) melt at higher temperatures (70-75° C or 158-167° F). The others will melt at between 40-45° C (104-113° F). As an example, a soft curd cheese will melt more quickly than a semi-firm curd cheese.

The concentration of sugar in milk plays an important role in the colour of cheese. Cheeses with a fat content greater than 24% tend to brown faster and more easily. Fat content will also affect how cheese melts and its consistency. For example, cheddar (31% fat) will not run; it will become rubbery. Emmental (28% fat) will not run and will keep its shape.

Cheese maturation (ageing) is also an important factor in the reaction to heat. A young cheese will immediately react to heat while an aged cheese will begin to run only under very high heat, which makes the fat separate from the solid elements.

Because of the nature of its proteins, cheese can also bind water and fat to form a homogenous mixture. Its mineral content is another asset as it gives cheese a stabilizing effect. These minerals will prevent sudden changes that could occur when adding acid or alkaline ingredients.

Melting temperatures of some of the more popular cheeses

Melting temperatures of some of the more popular cheeses

  • Cream cheese 30° C (86° F)
  • Blue 45° C (113° F)
  • Brie 40° C (104° F)
  • Camembert 40° C (104° F)
  • Mild cheddar 50° C (122° F)
  • Aged cheddar 40° C (104° F)
  • Canadian Swiss 55° C (131° F)
  • Emmental 45° C (113° F)
  • Fontina 50° C (122° F)
  • Gouda 40° C (104° F)
  • Mamirolle 45° C (113° F)
  • Mozzarella 50° C (122° F)
  • Noyan 45° C (113° F)
  • Oka 45° C (113° F)
  • Parmesan 70° C (158° F)
  • Raclette 40° C (104° F)
  • Romano 75° C (167° F)
  • Saint-Honoré 40° C (104° F)
  • Saint-Paulin 40° C (104° F)
  • Tomme 45° C (113° F)
  • Vacherin 50° C (122° F)

Cooking with cheese and alcohol

Pure alcohol is a fat solvent and a protein modifier. It will affect the cheese’s texture considerably. However, the percentage of alcohol in wine and beer is insufficient to alter the behaviour of cheese.

The destabilizing effect of alcohol on cheese is directly related to its concentration. This effect can be largely minimized or even completely eliminated when alcohol is added slowly and mixed vigorously. But the best way to eliminate the undesirable reactions of adding alcohol is to heat it first, which allows it to evaporate partially or totally without compromising its wonderful aroma.