“I choose American cheese because it isn’t really a cheese—it’s more of a sauce when it melts, so you end up with a burger covered in delicious cheese sauce.”
Ever wonder what makes certain cheeseburgers so satisfying? Well, it’s the cheese. And not just any cheese; we’re talking liquefied, processed, gooey “cheese” that triggers memories of your youth. Sure, American cheese pitted against Roquefort or Manchego may never win the Complexity of Flavor Olympics, but many chefs vouch for processed cheese when it comes to crafting the perfect burger.
In other words, cheddar or blue cheese on a patty will most likely taste good, but there’s only one option when it comes to melting power and flavor. Hint: A square single that melts like no other.
Here, top chefs and butchers around the country share their (fawning) opinions of the controversial cheese.
Husk Nashville, Sean Brock: It's basically cheese sauce
“I choose American cheese because it isn’t really a cheese—it’s more of a sauce when it melts, so you end up with a burger covered in delicious cheese sauce,” says chef Sean Brock, of his wildly popular burger at Husk in Nashville.
Hay Merchant, Chris Shepherd: Its meltability is unparalleled
Chef Chris Shepherd is all about the melty cheese on the Cease and Desist Burger at Hay Merchant in Houston. “American cheese is my childhood,” he says. “Every weekend, my family fired up the grill for burgers, and in my opinion, American cheese is the only cheese for a burger. It’s sentimental to me. It has true meltability and texture, which enrobes the burger itself when it starts to melt. I’ve had other cheeses on my burgers—blue, cave-aged cheddar, Swiss—but nothing hits the spot like American. Its flavor doesn’t overpower the burger. When we were creating the burgers for Underbelly and Hay Merchant, there wasn’t a question in my mind.”
White Gold Butchers, Erika Nakamura: Everybody loves it
At White Gold Butchers in New York City’s Upper West Side, the Chopped Cheese is a mainstay for many reasons—one being the melted cheese that effortlessly sinks into the meat. "For us, 'processed' sounds so negative,” says butcher Erika Nakamura. “How about we all just call it ‘emulsified’? Truly though, with just a few tweaks you can change many cheeses from one that separates and gets stringy when melted into a smooth, velvety, melty version of itself. I always want the velvety version on my burger (or Chopped Cheese!), so we assume our guests would want the same. Sometimes, it's the right choice not to mess with the way people like things."
Brasserie by Niche, Gerard Craft: Nothing tastes as good on a burger
“At Brasserie, we stick to traditional French brasserie fare, but we make one exception: our cheeseburger,” says chef Gerard Craft. “It used to be topped with Fourme d'Ambert cheese, pickled red onions and arugula. It was very French and a great burger, but not a proper cheeseburger. It was missing that key ingredient, American cheese. The flavor and texture are so nostalgic and perfect for a cheeseburger. And only Kraft will do. The creaminess of American cheese melted on top of the burger patties with Dijonnaise (we have to still be a little French!), sweet onions and dill pickles? Now that’s a perfect cheeseburger to me.”
Piedmont, John May: You can class it up a little, too
“At Piedmont, we take a high-quality local cheddar and process it into an American cheese, which gives it a creamy, more melty quality,” says chef John May, of his mouthwatering burger served at Durham’s Piedmont restaurant during brunch hours. “When you process the cheese in-house, you get a much higher quality product than what you can buy in the store.”
Sweet Cheeks Meats, Nick Phillips: Its mild flavor compliments good beef
Jackson Hole’s favorite butcher shop, Sweet Cheeks Meats, offers a Royale Wit Cheese—a savory breakfast burger with processed cheese goodness. “It’s the glue for a greasy diner burger,” owner Nick Phillips says. “It doesn't interrupt the experience like a bleu cheese or sharp cheddar does, but adds to it through its unique melting and mild flavor. If you're using good beef you want that flavor to shine, and processed cheese is the perfect complement.”
The Mockingbird, Brian Riggenbach: It feels so right
TheMockingbird, one of Nashville’s latest eateries, serves globally inspired diner food, offering a phenomenal double cheeseburger topped with American cheese, charred onion and a “fancy” sauce. Chef Brian Riggenbach adds, “American cheese gets a bad rap in the current culinary industry when most kitchens are looking to source hyper locally, going full-fledged organic and fine-focused on healthy eating—which we also do with most of our menu. However, there is a time and a place for guilty indulgences, and American cheese is one of our favorite pleasures that is so wrong but feels so right! The brightly hued and gooey textured cheese hearkens back to childhood memories and Americana nostalgia that most everyone can vividly recall.”
Proof + Pantry, Nick Hurry: It's the only option for burgers
In Dallas, Proof + Pantry’s chef Nick Hurry admits that he doesn’t really like American cheese, “except on a burger,” he adds. “I think it’s more of a nostalgia thing. American cheese is classic and something that’s familiar for everyone. I’ve made burgers with every other type of cheese, and while still delicious, none of them feel right.” Chef’s Pantry Burger, crafted with a housemade patty, Dijon and capers, is topped off with an infamous square of Kraft.
This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.