When it comes to shredded cheese and grated cheese from a block, there ARE differences between the two! And these differences can really affect the outcome when you're cooking if you don't choose the right one.
My brother was recently telling me that when he makes mac and cheese he can't get the cheese to melt nicely and the first thing I asked was, "Do you use pre-shredded cheese or do you grate your own from a block?" Sure enough, he said he uses the cheese you buy in a bag that's already shredded.
Fair enough, because if you don't know the difference, why wouldn't you go with the more convenient option?
The Biggest Difference Between Shredded Cheese and Block Cheese
Ever wonder how pre-shredded cheese doesn't clump together and become one big ball of cheese? Well, this is because there are additives in shredded cheese that stop it from sticking together!
Shredded Cheese Ingredients and Additives
The additives you'll find in shredded cheese include:
Potato starch: True to its name, it's the starch from potatoes, and it's washed out and dried. Then, it's used for a variety of purposes, including as an anti-clumping agent in shredded cheese.
Powdered cellulose: A fine powder derived from wood pulp that serves many of the same purposes as potato starch. Cellulose is often combined with potato starch because even though it can be more effective than potato starch, it has a bit of a color (unlike cellulose) that can show up on food.
Natamycin: An anti-mold agent that's sprayed on the cheese. It's generally considered quite safe, but (like just about anything) there are some perceived issues with this product. You can read more about them here.
These additives are super useful when it comes to using shredded cheese, but it also stops shredded cheese from melting TOGETHER, the way cheese from a block does. The cheese will still melt and it will still taste delicious, but it doesn't get QUITE the same texture when you use it in certain recipes. But there are still lots of times using shredded cheese will work just fine!
When Can I Use Shredded Cheese?
Shredded cheese is great on pizza, because you don't need it to all melt together the way you'd want it to in mac and cheese. If you're short on time or all you have is shredded cheese, don't skip out on making something just because you don't have block cheese! Like I said, you can still make delicious food with it, but the texture and melting capabilities might just be a little different.
Some of the recipes you might not notice a huge difference between using shredded or block cheese include:
- On casseroles
- In scrambled eggs
- On lasagna
When Should I Use Block Cheese?
If you ask me, you should use block cheese whenever possible! In fact, I can't really think of any recipes I'd outright choose shredded cheese over block cheese. I swear it just tastes better - do a taste test!
Block cheese also happens to be cheaper than shredded cheese. And you get a lot more bang for your buck when you go ounce by ounce. Another bonus? Block cheese has a longer shelf life than shredded cheese!
But one of the times I think it's most beneficial to choose block cheese over shredded cheese is when you're adding it to pasta or a roux - especially mac and cheese! This is when you'll really notice a difference in how it melts, and you'll get a much smoother dish if you shred your own cheese.
That about covers it - I think it's time to go eat some cheese!
xo - C