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The Best Shredded Mozzarella
We found a brand that’s (almost) as good as fresh from the block.
Published Apr. 1, 2017. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Simple Chicken Dinner
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What You Need To Know
It’s a tempting shortcut: spend a few more dollars for a bag of shredded cheese and save time—and potentially skinned knuckles—by not having to grate the cheese yourself. We usually prefer to shred our own mozzarella for pizza, pasta bakes, etc., since most pre-shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents like cellulose powder (miniscule pieces of plant fiber) that can make the cheese stiff and dry, but we wondered if there was a shredded brand that could work in a pinch.
To find out, 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers tried seven brands of shredded mozzarella plain and melted on pizza. We also sent the cheeses to an independent lab to get a read on fat and sodium content.
Texture was the most glaring problem for most of the brands. None were great when eaten raw—the anti-caking agents made their strands gritty and powdery, and there was no fooling tasters into thinking this was freshly shredded mozzarella. But while tasters said no, grazie to the idea of eating pre-shredded cheese for a snack or atop a salad, most agreed that texture wasn’t as much of an issue when the cheese was melted on pizza. Though many brands were still unacceptably rubbery and stiff when melted, a handful emerged from the oven perfectly stretchy and chewy.
Why were some cheeses better than others when melted? The nutritional labels didn’t reveal any differences in the amount of cellulose powder or starch in each brand. Instead, lab tests pointed to fat as the culprit. Our winner—the only cheese made from whole milk in our lineup—contained 45% fat in its dry solids (a measurement of how much of the cheese is fat once water is removed). Lower-scoring cheeses (again, all made from part-skim milk) were significantly leaner, with between 36% and 41% fat in their dry solids. Fat helps cheese retain a tender, milky texture when melted, which explains why leaner products cooked up dense and rubbery, while fattier cheeses were more tender and stretchy.
Fat also contributes to flavor, so it was no surprise that lower-fat cheeses were seriously lacking in the buttery, rich flavor we expect from mozzarella. It didn’t help that some of these brands were also under- or over-salted; we found the sweet spot for seasoning to be between about 210 and 230 mg of sodium per serving—just enough salt to add a savory complexity that tasters craved. One other factor that contributed to flavor: Our winner was the only cheese that contains vinegar, and our tasters appreciated the tang it added. Testers also noticed that a few very finely shredded cheeses were clumpy and sticky, easily balling up into dense clumps that left the cheese splotchy and unevenly melted. When we measur...
Everything We Tested
These “chunky,” “short” strands were easy to spread over pizza dough and “stringy,” “evenly browned,” and subtly “chewy” when melted. Tasters praised this whole-milk cheese’s “classic,” “creamy” milkiness and slight “tang” from vinegar, which added a “rich” sharpness to pizza.
This cheese’s “big, fat shreds” were “soft” and “pliable,” melting into an “even,” “golden-brown” sheet atop pizza. Its flavor was “rich” and mildly “funky,” with a “vegetal” tanginess. Though a few tasters found its melted strands “a bit tough,” most agreed this was an all-around “good support cheese.”
These moderately thick shreds were “mild,” with a “familiar” “string cheese” flavor. Though fairly “starchy” when sampled plain, this cheese was perfectly “stretchy” and “chewy” when melted on pizza. A few picked up on a slightly “dusty” aftertaste, but most agreed that this “simple” cheese was a “safe bet.”
Recommended with reservations
Flavor was on point in this cheese, which tasters deemed “nutty,” “tangy,” and “sharp” (if a “tad salty”). However, some tasters couldn’t get past the overly “powdery” and “chalky” coating from this product’s anticaking agents. Though texture improved a bit with melting, some still found the cheese “rubbery” and “grainy” on pizza.
This part-skim cheese made the “greasiest” pizza of the bunch, which was surprising considering its moderate fat level. Those tasters that weren’t put off by the “oil slick,” however, enjoyed its “tangy,” “sharp,” creaminess and “gooey” texture.
Though many tasters thought this part-skim cheese was “too lean” and “could use more salt,” some liked its “lightly nutty,” “mild” flavor. Its “chunky” shreds were “crumbly,” “springy,” and easy to spread on pizza, just like those of our winner, but tasters found them a bit “rubbery” and “dry” when melted.
“Was that cheese?” asked one taster after sampling these “plasticky,” “bland” shreds. This organic product’s “thin strands” were so “dry” and “chalky” that one tester said it was “like eating straw.” On pizza, the melted cheese was “rubbery,” “tough,” and “flavorless.”
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