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Quite a few recipes require tossing cheese with some hot ingredient until it melts (like pasta), or melting cheese into something (sauce, soup, etc.). Usually this works fine, but sometimes the cheese "seizes", where it balls up into hard, rubbery curds, and won't melt or break down for anything. Further cooking only makes the cheese curds firmer.

I've had this happen both with commercial cheeses and with my own homemade cheeses.

Does anyone know what causes this? Ingredient or process in making the cheese? Type or degree of heat? Something else? I've already ruled out other ingredients in the dish, since I've had this happen with identical recipes, except the brand of cheese was different.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is a combination of the type of cheese and too much heat. Some cheeses melt more readily (mozzarella for example), but all of them will seize up if they are heated too much too fast - the proteins 'curl up' and separate from the fat and water in the cheese.

To combat this, you should chop or grate the cheese up to speed up melting, and lower the heat a little before adding it. You should also avoid using cheese straight from the fridge.

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As Elendil said, this is the cheese proteins denaturing under heat and expelling the fat and moisture which was trapped in them.

For even melting results, you can make your own processed cheese from any cheese, it will stay OK when melted, and taste like the good cheese you started with (unlike the processed cheese in the supermarket, which starts with bad cheese and ends up tasteless). There was a Food lab article on that, will have to search for the link later. Alternatively, melt it fondue-like with some alcohol and starch.

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Was it this?… – Ray Jun 21 '12 at 12:06
Just commenting to 'bookmark' this. I am not sure if there is a feature for that. Read over the links, and there is some interesting things in there. As someone who would rather have 'plastic cheese' nachos than the gourmet versions, I want to experiment with the recipes above. FWIW, I know of a little stand in my city that will make nachos with fresh made chips, fixins, whatever meat you want (carnitas are stoopid good), and then dump queso sauce on it. That is why I am fat. – JSM Jun 6 '14 at 18:00
@JSM under the vote numbers for each question, there is a small grey star. When you click it, the question becomes "bookmarked" for you. It only works for a whole question, not for individual answers. – rumtscho Jun 6 '14 at 18:33

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