Mac and cheese is a classic comfort food that is beloved by many. It’s creamy, cheesy, and satisfying. While pre-shredded cheese may seem convenient, there are some downsides to using it in mac and cheese compared to block cheese that is freshly shredded. Here we’ll explore the reasons why freshly shredded cheese makes for better mac and cheese.
Why is pre-shredded cheese a popular choice?
Pre-shredded cheese has gained popularity in recent years for its convenience. Here are some of the reasons why many home cooks and restaurants choose to use pre-shredded cheese:
- Saves time – No need to shred blocks of cheese yourself which can be time consuming
- Uniform shreds – The cheese comes pre-shredded into uniform shreds or strands
- Easy to measure – Most pre-shredded cheese packages have volume measurements making it easy to measure out what you need
- Melts easily – The shredded cheese often has additives to prevent caking which helps it melt smoothly
- Longer shelf life – Pre-shredded cheese tends to last longer in the fridge than cheese blocks
- Less waste – You can use just what you need without leftovers from partially used blocks
Downsides of using pre-shredded cheese
While pre-shredded cheese does offer some conveniences, there are some downsides that can affect the quality and taste of dishes like mac and cheese:
Coating prevents melting
Pre-shredded cheese is coated in cellulose or potato starch to prevent the shreds from sticking together in the package. However, this coating can sometimes prevent the cheese from melting smoothly when cooked. The cheese may not melt together into the smooth, creamy consistency you want in mac and cheese.
Dries out faster
The increased surface area of pre-shredded cheese means it dries out faster than cheese blocks. Cheese that has lost moisture may not melt as well. Drier shredded cheese can be grainy rather than creamy when melted.
During the shredding process for pre-shredded cheeses, some of the milk fats get rubbed off resulting in a loss of flavor. The flavor compounds tend to be concentrated in the fats. With less fat content, pre-shredded cheese can lack some of the rich, nuanced flavors of freshly shredded cheese.
Not ideal for top melted dishes
While pre-shredded cheese works fine when incorporated into dishes like mac and cheese, it may not be the best choice for top melted dishes. Due to the coating, the shreds don’t always melt together into that ideal stretchy, gooey texture you want for pizza or nachos.
Benefits of freshly shredding your own cheese
Here’s why it’s worth taking the extra couple of minutes to shred your own cheese block for mac and cheese:
Cheese shredded right before use doesn’t have that anti-caking coating. This allows it to melt together into a smooth, creamy consistency. Freshly shredded cheese gives mac and cheese a silky texture.
Shredding cheese right before cooking preserves the moisture and fat content. All those delicious milk proteins and fatty acids that give cheese its signature flavors remain intact. Newly exposed surfaces from shredding also gives you a flavor burst.
Customize shred size
Pre-shredded cheese comes in a uniform shred, but shredding your own lets you customize the size. Larger shreds melt into bigger, luscious strands in the mac and cheese. Or you can shred finely for a completely smooth sauce.
Buying block cheese and shredding what you need can cost less per ounce than pre-shredded packages. This helps stretch your dollar further.
Tips for shredding your own cheese
Here are some tips for successfully shredding and using your own cheese blocks:
- Use cold cheese straight from the fridge for easiest shredding
- Shred using larger holes for long strands or small holes for fine shreds
- A food processor makes quick work of shredding blocks
- Toss the shredded cheese with some cornstarch or flour for anti-caking if needed
- Use cheese shreds soon after shredding for the best flavor and meltability
- Combine different cheese varieties for a custom mac and cheese blend
Ideal cheeses to shred for mac and cheese
Nearly any cheese variety can be shredded and used in mac and cheese. Some top options include:
|Cheddar||Classic flavor, melts smoothly|
|Monterey Jack||Mild, melty|
|Mozzarella||Stretchy, creamy melt|
|Parmesan||Savory umami, granular texture|
While pre-shredded cheese offers convenience, taking the extra few minutes to shred cheese right before making mac and cheese can really pay off when it comes to flavor and texture. The fresh shreds melt together smoothly for the creamiest possible sauce. Finely shredded cheese blends into the mac and cheese seamlessly, while larger shreds add delicious strands throughout each bite. Your homemade mac and cheese is worth the effort of shredding your own cheese.