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I got a Hickory Farms box over the holidays (as a gift), and it included a brick of "smoked cheddar/swiss", a processed cheese that was "naturally" smoked. Yesterday we decided to use it on baked potatoes, and were startled to find out that it doesn't melt, at all. Even after 10 minutes in a 325F oven*, it looked pretty much the same as when I first grated it.

Now, I'm used to thinking of processed cheese being super-melty. Velveeta is the queen of melty cheeses, down to the point of folks making their own fake Velveeta to have something for cheeseburgers. And I'm used to high-salt and/or "cooked" cheeses (like paneer) being non-melty, but this was neither of those.

What do manufacturers like Hickory Farms do, or add to, processed cheese that causes it to not melt? And why?

(* for comparison, real American cheddar melts after 5 minutes in a 325F oven)

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    Some people might take offense at "real" and "American" both being used to describe Cheddar ... but I seem to recall smoked gouda not melting as easily as a similarly aged gouda ... so it might just be dryer. – Joe Jan 10 at 23:25
  • Well, 'American cheddar" is a different cheese from "British cheddar", which is important in context because as a dry, aged cheese British cheddar tends not to melt easity. – FuzzyChef Jan 10 at 23:30
  • Perhaps a semi-duplicate of cooking.stackexchange.com/q/20330/8305 – Jay Jan 11 at 5:07
  • Yeah, but that doesn't answer my specific question. The processed cheese in this case is a semi-soft cheese with what appears to be a high oil and moisture content. – FuzzyChef Jan 11 at 6:27
  • Speculation but I wonder if the smoking or a related process had a similar effect to poaching halloumi (that doesn't melt easily and is poached in its own whey, presumably affecting the protein structure). – Chris H Jan 11 at 6:48
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I've never found smoked cheeses (including hickory farms' smoked cheddar) to be meltable. they make really good, flexible slices for sandwiches, or on crackers, but they don't melt well.

Smoked cheese, including hickory farm's brand, is a drier, firmer cheese - and the moisture levels of cheese are really important to the melting properties. If you really want to try to melt it, you would have to up the moisture level... shred finely and soak for a while and then use gentle heat with plenty of available moisture when trying to melt it. Same as with any firm, dry cheese. I've done this sucessfully with smoked cheeses, but I usually dfon't bother.

Processed cheeses usually have quite a bit more moisture added, with butter and cream and milk, to make the texture smooth and flexible and meltable. This one, whatever moisture might've been added to the original cheese probably at most offset some of the moisture lost while smoking. I think even "cold" smoking is warm(er than fridge) with moving air to get the smoke distributed - conditions which dry the cheese right out.

And smoking really is a kind of cooking, if you're used to thinking about cooked cheeses being non-melty. I think that's the rest of why even a pretty soft and flexible smoked cheese doesn't melt well, I think it undergoes (some of?) the same chemical changes that make a once-melted cheese more brittle, more oily, brighter color, squishy and floppy instead of smooth and firm, and in general less happy about remelting. That can happen just a few degrees above room temp, so it doesn't take much.

  • I've found scamorza (smoked mozzarella) to be quite meltable, but maybe that's the exception, since mozzarella is a very high moisture cheese. – FuzzyChef Jan 22 at 5:29
  • @FuzzyChef - that would make sense. I've mostly come across hard cheese varieties, smoked, I wouldn't have known where mozz fell on the scale without your experience :) – Megha Jan 22 at 5:32

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