Many an American childhood involves processed cheese—there’s just something about a warm grilled cheese, filled with gooey, melty Kraft American, or a big bowl of creamy Velveeta Shells & Cheese, that appeals to kids’ tastebuds. As adults we still crave the comforting texture and unctuousness of processed cheese, but most of us also crave cheese that’s a little more nuanced in flavor—the nutty, earthy notes of Gruyère, for instance, or the wake-you-up funk of Roquefort or Stilton.
Enter melting salts. A cornerstone of the commercial cheese world, salts such as sodium citrate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and sodium caseinate allow manufacturers to create sterile products that don’t “”oil off””—an industry term that refers to the tendency of the fats in melting cheese to separate from the proteins. In the modernist kitchen, chefs have taken advantage of these additives to alter the texture of great cheeses, creating slices that have that great melty, creamy quality of the plastic-wrapped stuff you find on supermarket shelves, while retaining the wonderful complex flavors of the best fromages.
At ChefSteps.com, we walk you through the steps for creating such a product using sharp cheddar. After combining the cheese with milk, salts, and clarified butter, you’ll heat the mixture and blend it together until it reaches a smooth consistency. You can use the cheese right away, but if you want firm slices you’ll need to cast it in a mold and chill it for eight hours. We made a round mold—the perfect shape for topping burgers—but you can opt for any shape you like.
The process works differently for every cheese. Below, you’ll find directions for working with a number of popular cheeses; these represent the best results in our kitchen. In general, younger cheeses such as mild cheddars and pepper jack tend to work very well for this application. Fresher cheeses, cheeses with less protein content, and older cheeses will require more manipulation. Basically, you’re going to have to do some trials of your own. If you find the process tricky, just head on over to ChefSteps.com and we’ll help you troubleshoot.
ChefSteps is here to make you a better cook. Drawing on our years of combined culinary experience, we create hands-on online classes and original recipes that are both informative and entertaining. We don’t tell you how to sharpen your knife or make macarons from scratch, we show you. Whether you’re a home cook, a professional chef, or just love watching cooks work, we can help you cook smarter.