My Rouses Everyday, July/August 2017
Rouses cheesemonger Scott Page is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, a title that requires passing a master exam covering everything from dairy regions to cheese making, ripening, storage and serving. Scott lives in Zachary, Louisiana. Find more of his tasting notes in the Cheese & Charcuterie section.
A burger, like everything else, tastes better with cheese.
But what kind of cheese? We cheesemongers typically look at milk type, category — bloomy rind versus washed rind — the age of the cheese and its country of origin, but besides taste, when it comes to burgers, the only thing that really matters is the friability, what curd nerds like me call meltability. Some cheeses melt into a mess, and some won’t melt at all.
Typically, the friability has a lot to do with moisture content. The younger the cheese, the more moisture it retains and the easier it will melt.
Here are a few of my favorite melty cheeses for burgers, beginning with everyone’s guilty pleasure, American cheese.
Personally I’m not ashamed to admit my abiding affection for American cheese. It’s the one cheese we always had in our refrigerator when I was growing up. Those individually wrapped slices remind me of my childhood, and it’s hard to beat the meltability. My five-year-old daughter, however, is a cheese snob. She would never eat pre-packed American cheese. Her sisters, six and 10, are a little more lax.
Cheese moves from something that adds texture but not much taste to something that adds wow when you switch from American to Alpine “Swiss cheese” styles. Gruyère and Emmentaler — the original “Swiss” cheese — both add a deep, funky, nutty flavor. Cave-aged Gruyère is the same cheese you use in French onion soup. Try it on a burger with caramelized onions; you’ll thank me later. Want something a little bit lighter but still nutty-tasting? Go with a creamy French Comté.
Also on the more melty side of the cheese case are semi-soft cheese such as Fontina, Monterey Jack and Havarti, which are great flavor enhancers.
And you can’t go wrong with classic white or yellow cheddar. The sharper (older) the better. The intense, grapefruity flavor of melted Cheddar pairs perfectly with just about every burger topping. I like Excalibur English Cheddar, but if I’m feeling patriotic, I’ll go with an American artisan like Cabot, which is made in Vermont.
For a sweeter rather than savory burger, Dutch Gouda is a great choice. Young Gouda has a buttery, caramel-like flavor. As it ages, that caramel flavor subtly becomes more butterscotch-like.
If you’re feeling adventurous, choose a bloomy or washed rind cheese. You can’t beat the creamy, mushroom-like flavor of Brie or the toasty, bacony meatiness of Taleggio. A trick for softer cheeses like Brie and Taleggio is to cut them while the cheese is cold. Then add the slices right at the end of cooking so they don’t run too much.
Some cooks are afraid the flavor of bleu cheese will overpower the meat. Just watch how much you use, and you’ll be fine. The classics (Stilton, Gorgonzola and Roquefort) have their own flavor profile, as well as deep histories. English Stilton is drier and more piquant; Italian Gorgonzola is creamier but still tangy; cave-aged French Roquefort is made with sheep’s milk, so it’s the strongest of the bunch, and far more pungent and tangy on your tongue. If you’re still hesitant, start with something mild like a crumbly Danish Blue or rich, creamy Saint Agur.
You don’t typically find fresh goat cheese on burger menus because it won’t give you that creamy melt. But goat cheese will get very soft, and it provides a flavor profile that’s unmatched. I promise you the citrusy tang will not disappoint! Feta is primarily made from sheep’s milk. It’s salty and crumbly. Like goat cheese, it won’t completely melt, but if you’re making lamb burgers, there’s nothing “betta” than Feta.
Now that you know how to choose the right cheese for your burger, go spread the word about the curd.