Not that a slice of really great Cheddar isn't a treat by itself, and not that we're attempting to foment rebellion here, but can we please have a break from the same old five cheeses on our cheeseburgers? Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, pepper Jack (oh, look, now it's a spicy burger!) and that plasticized, processed “cheese food” known as “American cheese” . . . it gets kind of old after a while.
It's time to branch out a little bit. High-end beer-and-burger bars have been doing it for some time, but fancy cheese on burgers hasn't tripped the light fantastic yet. In the meantime, head for your local cheesemonger and try these five alternatives.
Danish cheese? Sure, why not? Esrom, a cow's milk cheese, is like Havarti, except it's got a much more floral (read: pungent) flavor and tastes, if possible, even more buttery than its better-known cousin. It would pair well with burgers made from fattier, more flavorful beef, but if Safeway-issue ground meat is all that's available, it'll provide some of the missing richness.
Reblochon, a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from the mountainous Savoie region of eastern France, is a common topping on pizzas in France. While it doesn't melt perfectly, it won't just slide off the sandwich either, and it imparts a rich, dairy flavor without too much “stink”–Americans sadly still not being big eaters of stinky cheese.
The problem with most blue cheese is that it's too crumbly; it neither melts well, nor does it keep to slices, which means that bits of cheese will dribble out the back and sides of the burger as it's being eaten. Saga, a soft, white “blue Brie” cheese from Denmark, takes care of the issue nicely; its pâte (inside) keeps its shape when sliced cold, but the blue streaks running through it deliver the tangy punch that makes all blue cheese pair so well with great beef.
4. Scamorza affumicata
The problem with mozzarella and other fior di latte cheeses is that they're at their best fresh, which makes them too wet for a burger, and when they've been aged, they lose much of their flavor. Scamorza affumicata, though, is smoked; you get the rich milky taste of fresh mozzarella, the slightly straw-y taste of dried mozzarella, and a hit of smoke. It melts beautifully and, if pizza burgers really are the order of the day, it'll lend interest to the marinara sauce.
Taleggio is the secret perfect cheese for burgers. It will melt fully–Taleggio is a common ingredient in wintertime risotti–and the salt crystals on the rind will help if the burger is underseasoned. If you're looking to replicate one of the fancy beer-bar burgers (Father's Office) and don't want a blue cheese, go with Taleggio to pair with sweet onions or peppers, and top with spicy arugula.