In upscale cheese circles, the debate stems from the fact that although fancy artisan cheeses might win on taste, heat tends to alter their flavor and texture, and is not always for the best. When talking about grilled cheese, burger cheese, macaroni, and cheese, the keyword is “meltability.” We asked Wes Rowe, chef at WesBurger ‘N’ More in San Francisco, for his thoughts on the matter. “Artisan cheeses are nice but often wasted on a burger. The exceptions are really old sharp Cheddar, and blue cheese.
I really love American cheese, especially thick sliced. This cheese is the classic for burgers, it’s delicious, melts second to none, and is a really gorgeous color of yellow.”
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That yellow color in American cheese traditionally comes from annatto, a coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree and was originally added to help sell paler cheeses at market. And of course, for burgers, Rowe means good old squares of pasteurized process American cheese from the supermarket. Processed cheeses melt more easily because they contain emulsifiers and oils to help them do just that. Just be sure to read the label—if the word “cheese” does not appear, it will contain little to no milk –it’s made from vegetable oil instead.
American cheese has improved as consumer awareness and demand for better cheese have increased. Andrew & Everett, for example, was the first brand to introduce rBGH-BST hormone-free American cheese. Their preservative and hormone-free cheese, made with milk from grass-fed cows using vegetarian rennet, contains no antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, binders, or fillers, and is gluten-free making it a favorite with Whole Foods Market shoppers. According to Stacey Bender of Bender PR Group, their sales definitely peak during the summer grilling season.
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On the artisan blue cheese side, Marguerite Merritt, cheese emissary of Rogue Creamery weighed in from Oregon to share ideas on their line of award-winning blue-veined cheeses for burger bliss. “Choose a blue cheese with a level of “blue” intensity that complements the type of meat you’re using. For a standard ground beef patty, I find that many blue cheeses can be too strong. Rogue Creamery’s Oregon Blue or Smokey Blue cheeses are more moderate in their “blue” flavor, and don’t overwhelm the taste of the beef.”
Merritt also encourages thinking out of the burger box. She suggests “mixing crumbled blue cheese into the patty or making a stuffed burger” which sidesteps the meltability issue and paves the way for blue cheeseburger success. “My favorite choice when making a blue cheeseburger is Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue,” says Merritt. Wheels of this cheese are smoked over local hazelnut shells, and “the sweetness of the hazelnut shell smoke matches perfectly with the savory meatiness of a ground beef burger, especially one grilled outdoors on a charcoal grill.”
Chef Rowe agrees. “Rogue Creamery Smokey blue cheese is fantastic.”
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In the Cheddar camp is the 8-location paean to all things gooey and cheesy, The Melt. While they offer a burger with Swiss cheese and mushrooms and another with pepper jack, onions, jalapenos and avocado, their signature mouthwatering Meltburger features Cheddar, a 1/3 pound of Angus and Wagyu beef, mild jalapeños, pickles, and Melt sauce. Cheddar is a classic for cheeseburgers due to its tangy character and umami that enhance the flavor of beef.
The Melt uses a couple of different techniques to ensure there is melted cheese in every bite. They smash and chop the beef patty on the grill before layering on two slices of cheese and cover the burger briefly with a metal bowl before serving it on a toasted artisan bun.
So here we have our answer—when making burgers, especially on the grill, layer on the gooey American cheese, blue, or Cheddar.
Whichever cheese you choose, there’s no need to skip the ketchup!
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