Nonmelting Cheeses

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

There are several kinds of cheese that do not melt on heating: they simply get drier and stiffer. These include Indian paneer and Latin queso blanco, Italian ricotta, and most fresh goat cheeses; all of them are curdled exclusively or primarily by means of acid, not rennet. Rennet creates a malleable structure of large casein micelles held together by relatively few calcium atoms and hydrophobic bonds, so this structure is readily weakened by heat. Acid, on the other hand, dissolves the calcium glue that holds the casein proteins together in micelles, and it eliminates each protein’s negative electrical charge, which would otherwise cause the proteins to repel each other. The proteins are free to flock together and bond extensively into microscopic clumps. So when an acid curd is heated, the first thing to be shaken loose is not the proteins, but water: the water boils away, and this simply dries out and concentrates the protein even further. This is why firm paneer and queso blanco can be simmered or fried like meat, and goat cheeses and ricotta maintain their shape on pizzas or in pasta stuffings.