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I love dipping things like pretzels in melted cheese.

I've done this lots of times at fairs and other places with 'pretzel carts', but I've never been able to replicate it myself at home.

Whenever I try it, I get really thick, stretchy cheese with a layer of liquid oil sitting on top of it. It's gross, and not good for dipping.

So, how can I melt cheese into a nice, smooth liquid that I can use for dipping in?
I'd love to learn if there's a particular type of cheese that will work best, how to heat the cheese, and any other tips that you can provide.

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Wow, this really is a broad question! Can you mention what you already tried? – Mien Jun 20 '11 at 18:16
Related: – Jay Mar 28 '13 at 1:27
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Normal cheese melts like that. It is made of proteins, fats, and water, and these separate when they are heated.

For dipping, you need processed cheese. It has additives which keep the fat, fluid and solids mixed in a smooth mass. Also, it really helps to use very slow and even heat. This is the easy option.

If you want to do it "for real", without processed cheese, you have to make a cheese fondue. It is traditionally made with Swiss cheese (I am fond of Appenzeller fondue), but you can use most types of semi-hard yellow cheese. It also contains some fluid, traditionaly white wine, and is emulsified with simple starch. It is preferable to have a special pan for this, as you can serve it heated. But if you make a big portion in a pan with a high thermal capacity, and make it immediately before serving, you can do without the special gear.

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Try heating a couple table spoons of butter with some flour in a pot for a couple of minutes stirring with a wooden spoon then add enough hot milk to make the mixture smooth. Melting the grated cheese in flour prevents the oils from separating and the proteins from curdling.

(edit) If you want to search for a recipe, a Béchamel sauce with grated cheese added to it is called Mornay sauce

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Why the downvote? This is called Béchamel sauce or in English, white sauce, which is a considered one of the 'mother sauces' in French and Italian cooking. – Adam S Jun 20 '11 at 18:50
This is how I make any kind of cheese sauce. It works and tastes great. – michael Jun 20 '11 at 19:57
While this is fine, the volume of cheese you can melt into a smooth consistency before it starts to separate in not as high as when using the fondue style method – TFD Jun 20 '11 at 22:13
@TFD I don't think that is the difference between fondue and Mornay. Fondue is made with wine and Morney is made with milk. I'm sure that with the same amount of either wine or milk that amount cheese that can be added to a smooth consistency before it breaks is pretty close the same. – Adam S Jun 20 '11 at 22:46

There is the good way and the cheap way.

The good way is fondue. Acid and / or alcohol are used to cut up the cheese proteins so it isn't stringy and the cheese is heated gently to not break the emulsion.

You can look up a recipe. <napoleonDynamite>There are, like, an infinity of them.</napoleonDynamite>

The cheap way is processed cheese product. This is most likely what you would have seen for casually dipping a pretzel.

This is a mixture of cheeses that are melted together with emulsifiers and gums and various other things that make them melt smoothly.

Velveeta would be the canonical brand name for this sort of thing.

Around here they like to mix salsa into it, use it as a dip, and call it 'queso' which, in my mind, is both a culinary and linguistic atrocity.

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Funny how often culinary and linguistic atrocities go hand in hand. – drxzcl Jun 21 '11 at 7:26
what's with the napoleonDynamite? – Izzydorio Jun 22 '11 at 12:13
It's a quote from the movie Napoleon Dynamite @Izzydorio – Preston Fitzgerald Dec 5 '14 at 16:55

Without taking away anything from the previous answers, I want to add one more reference: Kenji Alt's article on making a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.

He describes the science in great detail, as well as providing lots of documentation of his various experiments. His final recipe comes down to a simple methodology:

  • Toss the real cheese, shredded, with corn starch which will act as an emulsifier to help keep the sauce from breaking
  • Add condensed milk to increase the amount of milk proteins and water
  • Melt slowly

You will note that in many ways, this parallels the very classical fondue recipe that Rumtscho has referred to. It uses starch as an emulsifier and adds liquid (from the condensed milk, instead of wine). The major difference is substantially increasing the protein level (via the condensed milk).

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The original recipe specifies EVAPORATED milk. Condensed milk is sweetened. – Linda Nov 3 '14 at 5:52

You can prevent prevent cheese from separating as it heats by adding sodium citrate to the recipe. Sodium citrate is the same ingredient used as the binder in processed cheese and wine-based cheese recipes.

I bought a bag from Amazon that will last me a lifetime:

Here is a simple and excellent cheese sauce recipe that lets you make creamy sauce using high-quality cheeses:

No one knows how far back this kitchen wisdom goes, but in 1912 two Swiss food scientists were working on the problem of sterilizing cheese so that it could be stored, unrefrigerated, in hot climates. Up until this point, the results had been greasy failures; but these scientists discovered that adding the salt of citric acid (sodium citrate) to the cheese could prevent oiling-off. They had invented processed cheese.

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An EXCERPT from the Huffington Post article "How To Make The Creamiest Nacho Cheese." Entire article at:

(I leave out the salt since cheese is salty enough for me.)

2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk (warmed), 8 slices cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoons salt, Jalapeno peppers (optional)

  1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan.

  2. Whisk in the flour one tablespoon at a time to avoid clumping.

  3. Add the milk after the flour has settled. Mix until the sauce has an even consistency.

  4. Add the cheese and salt. After the cheese has melted, turn the burner to low, and allow the sauce to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

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I think you can just melt cheese. You need:

  • a bowl.
  • cheese. (shredded is best.)
  • a microwave. (duh.)
  • a fork.

Put the shredded cheese in the bowl. It depends on the time you put the microwave on.. First do a minute, if it's not melted, do 2 minutes. If it's still not, then set it on 3 minutes. Take the cheese out of the microwave and grab a fork. Stir it. There may be some greasy stuff in there. Dump it out. So there ya go! You can add milk, I think it makes it less thick.

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The real answer here is "try adding milk." As the question says, if you just melt cheese (real cheese, not processed cheese product) it will give you something really thick and stringy (possibly with separated oil) that's not at all good for dipping. – Jefromi Mar 27 '13 at 23:01

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