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I have had my fair share of eating cheese and experimenting with them. Sometimes they come out heavenly while other times, it turn out to be a huge flop. Usually when it flops, it's because I am expecting the cheese to melt and it doesn't.

So my question is, what properties of cheese determines how well the cheese melts? This way I can determine in the future whether a cheese I am about to experiment with is meltable. Are there physical indicators that I can see and feel that can help me determine a cheese's meltability?

Is there a special way to increase how well cheese melts? I have noticed that some cheese melt slightly on the outside but the inside turn rubbery and doesn't melt.

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Three factors influence how well cheese melts:

The amount of moisture,
The amount of fat,
How it was set.

The meltiest cheeses have a lot of moisture and fat and were set with rennet and not acid. Both moisture and fat leave space between the casein proteins that allows them to move. Otherwise they are packed together and don't flow as well.

Aged cheeses have lost more of their moisture to evaporation. This means that they have to been heated to a much higher temperature before they will melt.

To quote Harold Mcgee: "Melting behavior is largely determined by water content. Low-moisture hard cheeses require more heat to melt because their protein molecules are more concentrated and so more intimately bonded to each other." (On food and Cooking, 64).

Aged cheeses with a high fat content will often leak some fat when they finally do melt- making an oily mess. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt had some good suggestions for dealing with this problem.

Acid set cheeses, such as Indian paneer and latin Queso Blanco, don't melt much when heated dry because the acid denatures the casein in such a way as to cause it to bind more tightly.(although they will dissolve into hot liquids sometimes.)

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I'll also add that high-salt cheeses, even when set with rennet (e.g. Pecorino Romano) do not melt well. –  FuzzyChef Jan 12 '12 at 6:24
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@FuzzyChef: Do you have a reference for that? Feta is a high-salt cheese yet it melts easily. And your example Pecrino Romano doesn't melt well probably because it has very low moisture. –  Jay Jan 12 '12 at 20:05
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Acidity level determines whether it will melt. Has nothing to do with moisture levels, fat etc. If your cheese wont melt it is either a very low acid fresh type cheese, or something went horribly wrong when it was made (cheddar for example, should always melt...if it doesnt, then something is wrong with the cheese when it was made).

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Thanks for adding that real cheese makers secret. Many people here would love a reference on the pH to casein stretchability balance. Can you find a good one? –  TFD Sep 18 '12 at 5:01
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The pH things isn't really obscure. See e.g. milkfacts.info/Milk%20Composition/Protein.htm. However, this answer misses the point. During cheese production, fat & water is separated from the protein solids - squeezed out, you could say. Acidity influences to which degree this happens. So, whether cheese melts is a result of the acidity when formed, but a function of fat & water content. –  MSalters Sep 24 '12 at 12:10
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