What’s your favorite comfort food? Whether it’s pizza, lasagna, or pasta there’s a high chance that cheese is included in your favorite dish.
The addition of cheese into culinary masterpieces results in the creamy, soft texture of the dish.
Some cheeses are creamy like gouda, soft like mozzarella, solid like parmesan, salty like feta, some have a bit of a nutty taste like brie, and some taste bitter like cheddar.
However, the best quality of cheese comes fresh from the block.
Throughout history, in an attempt to simplify the cooking process, society has normalized buying bags of cheese that come pre-shredded for easy, instant, usage.
However, using this method of cheese could be influencing your dishes in a negative way.
When you compare the ingredients of a cheese block versus a bag of pre-shredded cheese there are some noticeable differences.
A block of Great Value sharp cheddar cheese from Walmart contains pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes, and annatto color.
The ingredients of a Great Value bag of pre-shredded sharp cheddar cheese are all the previously listed ingredients of a block of sharp cheddar with the addition of some key ingredients — potato starch and powdered cellulose to prevent caking and natamycin to prevent mold.
Adding the ingredients of potato starch and powdered cellulose drastically compromise the integrity of the cheese.
Freshly grated cheddar cheese off the block is creamy, soft and easily meltable; cheddar cheese from a bag is dry, harder to melt, and tastes more bitter.
Cellulose is a dietary fiber that can be found in green plant cell walls, algae and oomycetes.
From the commercial point of view, it is most often obtained from wood pulp and cotton. We consume cellulose when we eat whole fruits and vegetables. When consumed in limited quantities, it also helps in digesting food.
However, when added to cheese, producers are removing actual cheese from the product to add cellulose.
From the sales point of view, adding cellulose decreases the production cost of shredded cheese as compared to pure ones since they are substituting cheese for extra cellulose.
The change is avoided in blocks of cheese because it affects the composition and texture of the final product.
According to scientific studies, excess consumption of cellulose beyond 4 grams may result in gas, bloating and diarrhea. In severe conditions, it may block the human intestines.
Natamycin is an anti-mold agent that is put into a concentration, then sprayed on cheese shreds to coat them as thoroughly as possible. It’s tasteless, non-toxic, and naturally occurring, and has been used in commercial food production for a long time.
It’s also non-water-soluble, so it can’t enter the human digestive tract, it is also sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat eye infections.
These ingredients are the reason why pre-shredded cheese can behave oddly in cooking rather than fresh cheese.
In harder cheeses such as parmesan, which are dry to begin with, it’s no surprise that pre-shredding them and then tossing the shreds in chemicals that creates those rigid little shreds makes the cheese dryer.
But even soft cheese shreds that have been treated with anti-clumping agents will resist melting together while cooked, the same way they resist melting together in the bag.
One argument in favor of pre-shredded cheese is the price point of the product.
At Walmart an 8-ounce bag of pre-shredded sharp cheddar cheese costs $1.98 pre-tax, while a 8-ounce block of sharp cheddar costs $2.08. This is a $0.10 difference between price points.
However, those 10 cents to purchase a block of cheese versus a bag of cheese is a difference of quality.
For that extra 10 cents and a little bit of time in the kitchen using a cheese grater to shred your cheese, you’re getting a lot more quality and value from the product.
In addition to this, grating a 8-ounce block of cheese actually results in more real cheese product than in the pre-bagged stuff. This is because the added cellulose is included in the 8 ounces of weight.
One cheese testimonial comes from college sophomore Maria Urwiller.
Urwiller remembers not knowing there was an actual taste or quality difference between cheeses until her roommate insisted on only using freshly grated cheese in their cooking.
“From then on, it became obvious when someone had used a pre-shredded cheese in their dish,” Urwiller said.
The way you can upgrade the quality of your cheese dishes is to begin by purchasing blocks of cheese while grocery shopping rather than pre-shredded bags.
The next step is investing in a cheese grater. I recommend a stainless-steel grater for an easier grating experience.
The final step for upgrading your cheese dishes is remembering to grate your own cheese even while cooking, this will result in better textures, flavors, and the cheese will melt more evenly in cooking and baking.