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Have you ever wondered, “Why does cheese melt”? Well, I’m going to talk about that today. What would we do without cheese that melts? Some are gooey. Others stretch forever. Pizza wouldn’t be pizza without stretchy cheese. And what about that oozing cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich? Ok, now I’m hungry.
As always, let me take a moment for new listeners. Welcome to the show and again, as always, welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week as well as some insight into why does cheese melt.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
My tomatoes are coming in fast now. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them are out there on the vines. Twice I’ve picked tomatoes. I brought in a 5-gallon bucket full both times. On a day not very far in the future that might turn into two or three 5-gallon buckets at a time. A couple of the plants are in real trouble now and I for those I will likely have to pick all of the tomatoes even if they are still green. That’s only about three or four plants. There are fifty in the row. Lots of tomatoes left to ripen.
The tomato vines were enclosed in cages and which were tied up with baling twine tied to iron rebar driven into the ground every few feet. The weight of the tomatoes has taken down that half-hearted trellis. Well, it’s still there but leaning over quite sharply. Next year will require a modification. That’s the way of our homestead. You try something one year, see what works well and what didn’t. The next year, make improvements keeping the good and modifying the less than desirable.
The sunflowers are blooming. I’m not sure when to cut them down. Before the birds go crazy for sure. But exactly when I don’t know yet. These sunflowers have been a great little fun project. Who would have thought I would enjoy them so much? I hope I get the hang of harvesting them. I’m looking forward to next year and another great growing season for sunflowers.
I had one entire bed of onions that I finally dug up. They can stay in the ground, but they can rot if it is wet. And after weeks of no rain, we are getting rain nearly every day. In fact, I can hear the thunder right now. Yet another afternoon thunderstorm is upon us.
I pulled up all of the black beans. The plants were completely dry. I pulled up each plant, stripped the dried bean pods off and moved on to the next one. It was the easiest way to pick them.
There is still a bed of red beans and one of white beans. Both of those have a lot of plants that are still somewhat green. I’m going to let them dry a bit more before I go in and pick all of those pods. It had been a great year for dried beans.
I picked many of the baby lima beans. We had a meal of the green ones a couple of nights ago. I love green baby lima beans. The rest of what I picked had already dried in the shell. Those will be shelled and stored for winter. There are a lot more still in the garden, still growing. In fact, they are still blooming. We will be having lima bean harvests for a while yet.
The hot cherry peppers are really producing. I’ll be using them in another canned pickle pepper recipe. Some of them will be dried.
I have so many green peppers right now. Likely there are enough to fill the dehydrator – and it has nine shelves. And still more green peppers out in the garden. We are blessed with abundance there.
This is another area of abundance. I’m a little disappointed with the parsley, cilantro and rosemary. There is always next year. This year it’s the basil, oregano and thyme that are magical in their growth. The dehydrator will be getting many of those leaves as well.
I started up the incubator once again. This is the last time this year. The earliest I would collect eggs again would be the last week of September and I’m pretty sure that would be too late. I learned my lesson last year with 48 eggs in the incubator and only 8 hatching. Somewhere around mid-September the hens dramatically reduce the number of eggs they are laying. That’s due to the reduced hours of sunlight. The roosters become infertile around the same time.
It’s probably an evolutionary survival thing. No use wasting time and energy on raising more babies in the winter. Nope. That’s the time to try and keep yourself alive. It can be rough on birds, trying to forage through the snow. Birds need protein. All the bugs are gone. The frogs are hibernating. Worms have gone farther underground where it isn’t so cold. What’s a bird to eat?
Anyway, late September eggs will be few and infertile. I have 80 eggs in the incubator. We shall see in three weeks how it all comes out.
I don’t really have much to say about the cows. All look healthy. Butter is even starting to look fat. It is an unusual sight for a Jersey. The one thing that I will mention is the mud around the pond.
These animals are big. In the summer they like to hang out in the pond. Literally, they stand in the water up to their belly. It’s cool and keeps those giant bot flies off of their belly. A few years back they got into the habit of coming out of the pond at the same location time and time again. The result was that the bank broke down and eventually the pond stretched all the way to the fence. Originally, there was a strip of land more than 6 feet wide. It’s all gone now. Years later, not only is the pond all the way to the fence but the rest of the pathway is churned into mud. It is churned into deep mud.
I’m prepared for mud. I have some really great rubber boots that allow me to slog around just about anywhere. A couple of days ago I went out to bring in the girls for milking. Instead of finding them grazing in the pasture, they were still in the pond. I really didn’t want to have to go across that mud to get them moving toward the milking shed. I tried getting them to move from outside the fence. It just didn’t work. I had to bite the bullet and make my way across that mud to get them moving. And It’s not just one time. I had to follow them back across the mud.
Coming back, I was really, really careful. On the way over I sunk up in that mud so far that my boot was stuck. The mud was over a foot deep. When I tried to pull my boot out to make the next step, my foot came out and the boot stayed where it was. I put my foot back in the boot and wriggled and pulled until it got it loose. Now I’m in the middle of the mud pit. I take another step and the other boot is stuck fast in the mud. I repeated the procedure of wriggling while pulling to get that boot out as well. Thankfully, those two steps got me to more solid ground. I tried a different route on the way back and managed to only get one boot stuck.
The mud over that stretch of land is over a foot deep in places. Those 1,500-pound cows can create quite the muddy swamp. It’s a real mess. Just another task on the to do list to get that fixed.
Enough of that. Let’s talk cheese.
Why Does Cheese Melt?
There are two things that happen when cheese melts. First, at about 90 degrees, the solid milk fat in the cheese begins to liquefy. You will see the cheese softening. You might see beads of melted fat rising to the surface. Second, as the cheese get hotter, the bonds holding together the casein proteins break apart and the cheese melts into a thick fluid.
The complete melting happens at different temperatures for different cheeses. Mozzarella, which is a fresh (meaning not aged), soft, high-moisture cheese, will melt at about 130 degrees. For aged cheeses with much lower moisture such as cheddar and alpine cheeses like gruyere, the melting happens at about 150 degrees. For hard cheeses that are grated like parmesan, a temperature of 180 degrees is required to get the cheese to melt.
What Makes a Good Melting Cheese?
There are three things that determine the meltability of cheese. Moisture content, whether it is fresh or aged and for how long, and how it was curded. What was used to make the curd? Animal rennet or some type of acid.
The higher the moisture, the more easily they flow. A moist cheese contains lot of water that is interspersed between the proteins. They readily liquify. A hard cheese contains much less water so when they melt, they don’t completely liquify. You can see this illustrated on a pizza with both Mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The Mozzarella is grated and sprinkled on the pizza. When heat is added, the Mozzarella melts into one pool of cheese. That’s the effect of moisture. On the other end of the scale, the parmesan is a very low moisture and very hard cheese. Using the smaller grater, it comes out finer. The grated pieces are much thinner and shorter. When melted, you can still see the individual strands of parmesan cheese.
The age of the cheese can also be a factor. In a fresh cheese, such as Mozzarella, the casein protein molecules are large and stretchy. They tend to tangle up and form a rope. They get stringy. With an aged cheese, the casein molecules are acted upon by ripening enzymes which break the casein into smaller pieces. That keeps the molecules from tangling when they melt. The result is smooth, oozy melt. Or as in the case of parmesan, smooth, but not so much ooze.
A cheese made by using acid to form the curd won’t melt at all. These cheeses include, Indiana paneer, Mexican queso blanco, Italian ricotta, Greek haloumi, most fresh goat cheeses, and most vegetarian cheeses.
Using animal rennet keeps the calcium to protein bond intact. Acid-curded cheese proteins are held together simply by the proteins binding to one another. The acid used to make the curd dissolved the calcium bond. When that acid cheese is heated, it does not melt. In fact, the protein bonds tighten, forcing out any water. The water evaporates. There isn’t enough moisture left to allow the cheese to liquify. Cheeses like queso blanco and paneer can be simmered or even fried without melting. Ricotta and fresh goat cheese retain their shape in the lasagna or manicotti.
Tips for Smooth Melted Cheese
Bring the Cheese to Room Temperature
A sudden temperature change can cause the protein to coagulate too quickly and squeeze out the fat. If that happens, the cheese will clump, have a greasy texture or both.
Grating creates greater surface area. Heat can permeate more quickly. Large chunks with irregular shapes will melt at different rates. The outside can overcook and become clumpy or oily as above before the inside of the chunk reaches the temperature to flow.
Use Low Heat
Gradual temperature changes with a lower temperature will prevent the fat from separating out of the melting cheese. It is best to add cheese at the end of a cooking process. That way it can reach melting point but not exceed it. An example is sprinkling cheese on top just as you finish the dish. Another example that may seem counterintuitive but is not, is making the cheese sauce for mac and cheese.
The sauce is made by browning flour in butter for a couple of minutes and then adding milk to make a thick sauce. That sauce is removed from the heat before adding the cheese. As the sauce is cooling the cheese is melting. Remember it only needs 150 degrees. Lastly, the cheese and sauce mixture is stirred into your choice of pasta. Though cooled somewhat, it is still hot enough to spread evenly through the dish. Add some parmesan on top, pop it into the oven to heat it through and brown the parmesan. Voila! The best mac and cheese ever.
This works when making fondues, sauces, and soups. You can use white wine or lemon juice. The added acid will bind to the calcium in the melted cheese keeping it separate from the proteins so they cannot clump together. The liquids of wine and lemon add water to dilute the proteins and keep them flowing. Smooth, smooth, smooth.
As in the mac and cheese example, flour or even cornstarch guards against clumping and stringiness. The starch coats the proteins and fats in the melted cheese. That keeps the proteins from clumping and the fats from separating out. Starch always makes a fine glue to hold things together.
You will get there in time. Don’t try to rush it. Overstirring encourages the proteins to clumps. You don’t want it to become clumpy or stringy.
Melted cheese is much more likely clump as it cools.
Use the Proper Cheese
For smooth melted cheese use a well-aged cheddar or high-moisture cream cheese. Save the Mozzarella for pizza.
That’s it for today’s podcast. Are you hungry now? I have a recipe on the website for that fabulous mac and cheese I talked about. Go to www.peacefulheartfarm.com and click or tap “recipes” on the menu. And I’ll put a link in the show notes. All of my recipes are printable.
Did you get the answer to the question of, “Why does cheese melt?” I hope so. Feel free to contact me if you have questions and I will answer to the best of my ability. It’s always good to hear from you. It makes my day.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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