Preshredded cheddar can be a timesaver, but how does it compare to block cheddar you’ve shredded yourself?
Published Mar. 5, 2020.
I am an unabashed lover of preshredded cheese, but in the test kitchen, we’ve long sung the praises of shredding cheese by hand (or in a food processor). Preshredded cheese is coated with additives such as cellulose or cornstarch to keep it from clumping, which can affect its mouthfeel and meltability. Still, preshredded cheese is an incredible shortcut: It saves time, it saves your hands from wrestling with a sharp grater, and it saves you from extra cleanup. It’s equally at home atop baked potatoes, nachos, and tacos; in cheese sauces and macaroni and cheese; and more. I’m not alone in my love for it. Americans spend more money on shredded cheese (including popular products such as Mexican, Italian, and multicheese blends) than cheese in any other form—by a long shot. Last year, shredded cheese beat out block cheese by more than $1 billion in sales, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Could we find a good shredded cheddar? We chose six shredded cheddar cheeses, priced from about $3.00 to about $4.00 per 8-ounce bag. We focused on sharp cheddar, which is the kind of cheddar we call for most often in our recipes. Three of the products were orange, and three were white; all were “traditional,” “thick,” or “farmstyle” cut—we didn’t include any “fancy cut” or “finely” shredded cheeses, since thicker shreds most closely resemble what we get from shredding by hand or in the food processor. We sampled the six products plain and melted atop nachos.
The shredded cheddars we tried all had the same key ingredients: cheddar cheese, a mold inhibitor (usually natamycin), and an anticlumping agent (usually cellulose, starch, or a combination) to keep the shreds from sticking together.
When we sampled the cheddars plain, many tasters could pick up on the cellulose or starch coating the cheese; it gave the strands a drier mouthfeel and slightly duller flavor than we’re used to in sharp cheddar. Tasters still thought all the cheeses were “savory” and “sharp,” and they struggled to pick up on differences between the products. We were curious to see how the cheeses fared when melted. While cellulose and starch can actually aid melting by keeping the protein in the cheese dispersed, they also draw moisture out of the cheese over time, which can inhibit melting.
We liked all the cheeses we melted and tried on nachos, but tasters noted some differences in meltability. Some cheeses were “smoother” and “more stretchy,” while others were a bit “greasy” and “slightly separated.” To understand why, we compared ingredient labels and looked at starch levels, but all the products ...
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