The Best Cheeses For Melting
Fontina can be buttery and a bit fruity; Fontina Val d'Aosta, from Italy's Aosta Valley, is firmer, more pungent, and nuttier (and always made of raw milk). Whichever you choose, this cheese is a superlative melter. Just remember to remove the rind. Other mildly tangy melters like Danish Havarti and Dutch Gouda make fine substitutes.
The production of Gouda includes a step called washing the curd, which is when warm water replaces whey in the cheese vat. Consequently, Gouda has lower acidity than many other cheeses -- and, as a result, a "sweeter" flavor profile and a supple, chewy texture. Younger Gouda melts brilliantly (aged Gouda is usually labeled as such, while younger varieties often have a red wax coating).
Italian Asiago comes in two varieties: pressato or fresco (young, smooth, and firm, with a mild appeal); and d'allevo or vecchio (aged, dry, and Parmesan-like). While the aged version is an ideal grater, for a smooth melt, seek out pressato. Good alternatives include Monterey Jack and colby.
This is a washed-rind cheese, meaning it's bathed in brine during aging; in the case of Taleggio, the process takes place in caves of Italy's Lombardy region. The result is a pungent exterior that imparts salty, nutty, and pleasantly doughy notes. Any washed-rind cheese can be substituted for it: Look for the orange rind, and expect (some might say look forward to!) a little bit of stink.
Several cheeses in the spirit of the famed French reblochon -- known for its buttery heft and fruity pungency -- are available stateside. One of our favorites is the French Preferes des Montagnes; it works beautifully in the hearty and traditional dish known as tartiflette. Italian Robiola Bosina, with its puddinglike texture, is another good substitute. And a readily available Brie would be excellent in this dish too -- especially if you prefer a milder result.
Provolone is made using a technique called pasta filata, or "pulled curd," and the cheese softens into a satisfyingly ropy chew. You can use sliced provolone, available at any supermarket deli, or, for a more intense flavor, look for dense and spicy aged provolone from the likes of Auricchio or Wisconsin's BelGioioso. Medium and sharp varieties are best for meltability.
This cheese gained fame as a pizza topping. For the best flavor, look for balls of fresh mozzarella (as opposed to the low-moisture kind that comes in blocks, meant for grating), ideally packed in water, though plastic-wrapped is fine. Reliably great and accessible brands include BelGioioso and Maplebrook Farm; many stores carry locally made options.
Made of raw milk from cows grazing on the flower-speckled hills of western Switzerland, Gruyere is the consummate melting cheese. It's the star of classics like French onion soup and cheese fondue, thanks to its gloriously smooth texture under heat. The definitive brand is 1655, though other Swiss brands Emmi Kaltbach and Mifroma are also reliably excellent. Or you can branch out with French Comte.