Which Types of Cheese Are Best for Casseroles?
Like you, we love making casseroles. So much so, in fact, that we've spent countless hours preparing these hearty dishes and perfecting the steps—from par cooking pasta and vegetables to identifying the right bakeware—so that you can enjoy casserole success at home, too. Since it's safe to say that we know a thing or two about the perfect casserole, you can believe us when we say that these baked dishes—yes, all of them—benefit from the addition of cheese. Which type? That'll depend on what you're making and your desired outcome.
When it comes to refining your casserole playbook, it's helpful to keep some dairy guidelines in mind. "Salt, fat, and acid are important (and sometimes subtle) elements we enjoy in cheese. You can count on cheese to add at least two of those components and round out a casserole with a quick—but vigorous—pass of your cheese grater," says Kathleen Serino, assistant manager of curriculum at Murray's Cheese. "Do you want complex flavor? Incorporate firm, aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, mature Cheddar or Gouda, or alpine types like Fontina, or Comté. If you're looking to brighten your dish, consider adding crème fraîche, chèvre or another mild and tangy spread (like Boursin). Do you want decadence? Go for blue or triple crème cheeses, or American process cheese," she suggests.
Which Cheeses Melt Best in Casseroles?
Sometimes, you just want your casserole to have that ooey-gooey, cheesy finish. When that's the case, Serino says the best cheeses for melting fall into a range of categories and include mozzarella, Jack, Swiss, Raclette, Gruyère, Fontina, Comté, Taleggio, and young Gouda, to name a few. "If you know of a cheese that is somewhat similar in texture and body to any of these examples, chances are it's going to behave in your casserole," she says. "A general rule of thumb is that if a cheese has higher moisture (it will feel slightly elastic) and higher fat, it will lead to a good melt."
Swaps and Experimenting
Serino emphasizes the fun of experimentation when cooking with cheese. "So long as it's fresh (meaning recently purchased or opened) and a similar texture to the recipe ingredient, it will generally work. The difference might be noticed in the level of salt, fat (mouthfeel), or acidity, so modify accordingly," she says. Serino provides the example of a recipe calling for Pecorino Romano. If you have domestic Parmesan, that's a fine swap since they grate similarly. Your casserole won't taste as salty, spicy-sharp and tangy, but you'll get fruitier notes, she explains. In this case, you can consider an extra pinch of salt and a few cracks of pepper, or combining the Parmesan with another sheep milk cheese like Manchego if you have it, Serino adds.
When to Grate and When to Dice
Along with getting creative with the combinations and amounts of cheeses that you use in casseroles, consider how you add each cheese to the dish. "Firm and hard cheeses should be grated well, semi-firm and softer cheeses can be rough diced," says Serino. "Creamy, fresh cheeses incorporate easily, especially when mixed separately in warm stock before being folded into the casserole."
Use Cheeses That Don't Melt, Too
"In the appropriate amounts, it is safe to be an equal opportunity cheese user in casseroles," says Serino. "Remember, these can be forgiving dishes because they take on a lot of varied ingredients. Even though some cheeses won't melt, like Halloumi or bread cheese, that is not necessarily a bad thing," she notes. "Instead, these types would provide textural interest or act as a meat alternative. Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie are great melters but determine if you want to keep or trim the rind, because that will not melt (but maybe you like that!)."