What makes comfort food more comforting than ooey, gooey cheese? Melted cheese was an element of many of our childhood favorites, and it can be just as tantalizing now that we’re grown up. But since we’ve long outgrown that bright orange blue box mac and cheese or the “cheese food“-based grilled cheese sandwiches of our youth, here are some ideas for how to make these classics a bit more gourmet. The secret, as you can imagine, is in the cheese — we’ve uncovered (through lots of experimentation) the secret to the best cheese for grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and fondue: three melted cheese favorites. For each delicious cheesy dish, there’s a different cheese combo to make it the best it can be.
The Best Cheese for Grilled Cheese
When it comes to grilled cheese, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, you want your cheese to be completely melted by the time the bread is brown and crispy; no one likes biting into a grilled cheese and finding that there’s still a cold lump of solid cheese in the center. Second, you want a cheese that has a good amount of flavor. And third, you want a great combination of textures: not too stringy, but not so gooey that it falls out of the sandwich.
For this, you’ll need a combination of aged cheddar cheese, which will pack the flavor punch, and raclette cheese, which is a great melting cheese given its high fat content. Remove the rind of the raclette so that its stronger flavor profile won’t overpower the cheddar, and freeze both cheeses about 20 minutes before making the sandwich, which will make it easier to grate them; grating the cheeses is the secret to making sure that they melt before the bread burns.
When ready to assemble the sandwich, butter both sides of each slice of bread, and pile the cheeses on. Assemble the sandwich, and place into a pan set over medium-low heat. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. We don’t suggest covering your sandwich, as even though it can speed up the melting process, it can also take away from the crunch factor of the bread because of the added condensation inside the pan. Believe us — you won’t regret the extra waiting time.
The Winning Combo: Equal parts aged cheddar and raclette
The Runners Up: Sub the aged cheddar for smoked gouda for a different flavor profile; use unaged cheddar and a flavorful melting cheese like blue cheese or brie for a gourmet grilled cheese
The Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese made with béchamel should be creamier than it usually turns out, but sometimes, no matter what you do, the end result ends up more grainy than velvety. The secret to the ideal combo of flavor and texture is in a three-part cheese arsenal.
The combo for mac and cheese calls for one flavorful cheese, in this case, an aged cheddar, one that’s a great melting cheese, in this case, a high-fat content Gruyère, and the secret ingredient: cream cheese. Trust us on this one.
What you’ll want to do is make a béchamel and then remove it from the heat. If you’re planning on baking your mac and cheese, splash a bit of extra milk into the finished sauce to keep it from becoming too thick in the oven. Then add the grated cheddar and Gruyère and stir, off the heat, until the sauce is smooth. Finish by whisking in the cream cheese. The cream cheese gives you the smooth and silky texture you used to get with Velveeta sauces, but without that chemical flavor.
Next, drain the macaroni and add the sauce to the macaroni, bit by bit, stirring until it’s combined. Bake if you like, topped with even more shredded cheese, or enjoy immediately.
The Winning Combo: Equal parts aged cheddar, Gruyère, and cream cheese
The Runners Up: Sub the aged cheddar with an unaged cheddar to let a different cheese, like smoked gouda or Basque sheepsmilk cheese Ossau-Iraty, take center stage. Sub goat cheese for the cream cheese for a tangier result.
The Best Cheese for Fondue
Fondue is a classic Savoyard dish, which means you’ll definitely want to be sticking to regional Swiss or French Savoyard cheeses for this. The major thing to consider with fondue is fat content — too little, and your fondue will be stringy, but too much means you’ll have an unpleasant layer of fat on top of your fondue.
The common ratio is half Emmentaler (imported Swiss cheese) and half Gruyère. The Emmentaler is milder and less expensive, while the Gruyère has a bit of a stronger flavor and a high fat content. To that combo, it’s great to add a third cheese — either a cheddar or a mature Swiss tomme, depending on your preferences, — to add a bit more of a distinctive flavor. Other than the cheeses, your other key ingredients will be white wine and cornstarch; this recipe from Serious Eats is a great guide to making sure that your fondue achieves the texture you’re going for.
The Winning Combo: Equal parts Gruyère, Emmentaler, and Swiss tomme
The Runners Up: Swap the Swiss tomme for any other cheese with a distinct flavor profile, like aged cheddar, smoked gouda, or a garlic-infused cheese. Consider swapping the wine out for beer when using a cheese like cheddar for a more all-American fondue.
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Grilled cheese image via Shutterstock