Contrary to popular belief, hard cheeses such as parmesan do in fact melt! Melted parmesan is a key ingredient in some pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara or a melty, crispy, chicken parmesan. So why is there a belief that parmesan cheese doesn’t melt?
The fewer the number of preservatives in your parmesan, and the fresher the cheese, the better it will melt. Parmesan cheese is made with an enzyme – rennet – that causes the milk structure in the cheese to break down easily when heated.
So why are there times when parmesan doesn’t melt? A lot of the time it has to do with the type of parmesan you’re working with.
Freshly grated parmesan
This is the preferred parmesan, always. This is when you have a big wedge of authentic parmesan cheese and you grate it yourself, using a cheese grater. Perhaps not the most cost-effective parmesan, but it’s the most delicious. You’ll get the best result out of parmesan when you grate it yourself.
Make sure you’re using authentic parmesan. Inauthentic types are common and can mess up your melt.
Pre-grated, store-bought parmesan
This is the bummer parmesan. Sure, it’s easy, usually less expensive, and it tastes pretty good too! But that melt… it’s just not going to happen.
Usually, with pre-grated parmesan, your cheese will be clumpy and won’t melt well. This is due to either a low-quality parmesan or the starch (usually cornstarch) that’s added to the grated cheese to keep the pieces from sticking to one another.
While slightly better than pre-grated parmesan, shredded parmesan doesn’t fare much better when it comes to a melt. Shredded parmesan looks like flakes of cheese, usually bigger than grated pieces. Manufacturers still coat the flakes with starch to prevent sticking, which prevents a true melt from happening.
These are the granules of parmesan that look and feel like a powder. Honestly, to us, they taste just like a powder too – not good. The texture feels a bit like sawdust, and just as you might expect sawdust not to melt, the same can be expected here of ground parmesan. We try to avoid this at all costs.
How do I melt parmesan cheese?
Well, once you’ve picked up your authentic, non-pre-grated-or-shredded parmesan cheese, you shouldn’t have a problem melting it! Parmagiano-Reggiano, the most authentic of parmesan cheeses, is usually the least processed.
In the case of parmesan cheese, the processing process gets rid of some of the enzymes that make cheese melty. This is another reason to avoid the pre-packaged, processed parmesan mentioned earlier.
Real parmesan cheese melts at a low temperature – 180 degrees Fahrenheit. No extreme heat is needed!
Does it take a long time for parmesan cheese to melt?
Nope! That is, if you have real, good-quality parmesan cheese, it won’t take a long time for it to melt. Real, fresh parmesan melts pretty immediately.
If you grate what you think is real, fresh parmesan over a sauce or dish and find that it doesn’t melt, chances are you either don’t have real parmesan, fresh parmesan, or a combination of both.