Ooey Gooey Good
MELTED CHEESE IS THE ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD
“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese… toasted, mostly.”
—Ben Gunn in Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883
It’s no surprise that melted cheese would be on the mind of sailor Ben Gunn, marooned three years on Treasure Island. It’s often on my mind too … an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich, the top almost burnt with a light skin developing. When cut, cheese oozing down the sides.
A true comfort food, melted cheese is a component of many dishes: mac ’n’ cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, casseroles, enchiladas, nachos, potatoes au gratin, fondue, raclette, soups, sauces, lasagna and pizza, to name a few.
Younger cheeses typically melt better than those that are more aged, due to their higher moisture content. When heating, cheese likes to be treated gently; slow warming and frequent stirring ensure an even melt. Heated at too high of a temperature, or too quickly, the oils and solids in cheese will separate and the entire thing will become greasy. Low heat also helps retain the cheese’s fat and moisture content. Even done right, not all cheeses are meant for melting—think halloumi, kasseri, manouri, queso blanco and paneer.
Thankfully, there are a number of locally made cheeses that melt beautifully, including Cowgirl Creamery’s Wagon Wheel, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Toma, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s San Geronimo and Central Coast Creamery’s Holey Cow and Goat Gouda.
Wagon Wheel is a cow-milk cheese made with organic milk from Straus Family Creamery. It’s a versatile cheese with a nice balance of creaminess and tartness. The finish has a slight caramel taste that would pair well with a Sauvignon Blanc.
Toma is a pasteurized cow-milk cheese made with microbial (vegetarian) rennet. It is rich and buttery, with notes of butterscotch. It works deliciously in a grilled cheese sandwich with balsamic onions, on top of French onion soup or in a fondue.
San Geronimo is a washed-rind cheese made with 100% organic cow milk. It has an earthy, meaty, slightly salty flavor. This cheese is a perfect choice for raclette. In fact, it received second place in the Raclette-Style Cheese category from the American Cheese Society in 2015. This cheese would hold its own against a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, or could be paired with a dry white wine or cider.
Holey Cow from Paso Robles' Central Coast Creamery is a pasteurized cow-milk Swiss-style cheese, complete with characteristic eyes in the body. It is smooth and buttery with a slightly salty tang and nutty flavor, reminiscent of Swiss Emmentaler. To mix it up a bit, you might try Central Coast Creamery’s Goat Gouda. Both cheeses would be complemented by a refreshing white wine with floral notes and a bit of minerality.
The shorter days and longer nights of winter invite us to gather with family and friends, around the fireplace or the fondue pot or raclette grill, accompanied by comfort food. Melted cheese, the ultimate comfort food, is a welcome guest at any celebration.