It happens to all of us at some point or another—you have a meal in mind for dinner, and you realize you’re out of a key ingredient. When you run out of mozzarella, can you substitute another type of cheese you happen to have on hand, like cheddar? I’ll help you learn about the characteristics of these cheeses to decide when it’s ok to swap and when you might be better off heading back to the store.
Can I Use Cheddar Cheese as a Substitute for Mozzarella?
Cheddar can be substituted for mozzarella and will still create an edible result. Depending on how big a part cheese plays in the recipe, it may end up tasting very different from what you expect, in terms of flavor and texture. Substituting cheddar for mozzarella can potentially create a new, inventive dish, while other times it might turn out a bit weird.
Can I Use Cheddar Cheese Instead of Mozzarella for Pizza?
Using 100% cheddar cheese on a pizza will create quite a different result than what we think of as traditional pizza. If you’re making a plain cheese pizza, using cheddar instead of mozzarella will turn out edible, albeit unusual. Mozzarella cheese is very mild, while cheddar has more flavor to compete with the tomato sauce, and sharper cheddars in particular might be a bit bitter.
Cheddar has a significantly lower moisture content than mozzarella, and also is relatively low elastic, meaning it doesn’t stretch the same way mozzarella does. This affects the way cheddar melts and chars in comparison to mozzarella. Cheddar has more potential to either not brown properly, or on the other end of the spectrum, burn, rather than getting that spotty brown appearance of traditional pizza—because of its different properties, it won’t bubble and blister like mozzarella does.
All that aside, who says pizza always has to be traditional? Because cheddar has a more distinct flavor than mozzarella, it can actually offer a lot as long as you pick ingredients that pair well with cheddar. For example, cheddar is great on barbeque chicken pizza, or cheeseburger pizza. It also goes very well with ham and pineapple, for all the Hawaiian pizza lovers out there!
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While cheddar isn’t commonly thought of as a pizza cheese, it’s actually often included in pizza blends in small quantities. One of the main reasons for including cheddar is to add color—yellow cheddar as opposed to white cheddar is colored with annatto, which gives it its distinctive orange tint. Involving small amounts of other cheeses like cheddar gives an overall balanced appearance in terms of both color and texture.
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Can You Substitute Cheddar Cheese Instead of Mozzarella in Lasagna?
Much like pizza, the type of cheese you use has a huge effect on lasagna, since cheese is such a large part of many lasagna recipes. You can substitute cheddar for mozzarella in lasagna, but it will taste very different than what is considered traditional lasagna.
Like pizza, using a blend of different cheeses is common for lasagna, so you can definitely include some cheddar in that mixture. For example, lasagna recipes often contain ricotta in addition to mozzarella. Ricotta is mild and creamy like mozzarella, but has a soft, milky texture that is more similar to cottage cheese.
Authentic lasagna recipes do not contain ricotta and instead call for béchamel sauce—a white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk (no cheese). In fact, many Italian recipes for lasagna also use mozzarella sparingly or not at all! One way you can more easily incorporate cheddar into lasagna is by making a white cheese sauce for layering instead of béchamel. When you add grated cheese to bechamel, it becomes another classic sauce called mornay, which would work great in lasagna. Cheddar would actually work much better in a cheese sauce than mozzarella, which because of its high elasticity is too stringy to make a smooth sauce out of.
What is the Best Mozzarella to Use for Pizza?
Even within the umbrella of mozzarella cheese, the product varies greatly in terms of quality and the different forms that it comes in. For example, fresh mozzarella is sold in both high moisture and low moisture forms. High moisture mozzarella is sold in balls packed in a tub of water. Low moisture mozzarella can come in a lot of different forms—logs or balls, pre-sliced or whole, and is usually vacuum-packed to prolong shelf-life.
There are also heavily processed versions of mozzarella cheese which contain additives to increase shelf-life. Adding emulsifiers actually helps processed cheeses melt beautifully (i.e. American cheese). Other advantages to processed cheese product include cost and shelf-life—fresh mozzarella is more expensive and needs to be used within a few days of opening. However, in terms of taste, texture, and health benefits, I’d opt for the fresh stuff when possible, especially if using for something like pizza.
On a similar note, I generally try to avoid pre-shredded cheese, which always contains additives. Whether you’re using cheddar, mozzarella, or any other type of cheese, I highly recommend slicing or shredding yourself for the best melting properties. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in starch to prevent the cheese from clumping in the packaging, which also keeps the strands of cheese somewhat separated even after heating, resulting in a weird, stringy look rather than a cohesive melted top.
What Other Cheeses Can Replace Mozzarella?
To determine which cheeses can best replace mozzarella, let’s take a look at some of mozzarella’s properties. Mozzarella is a mild cheese made from cow’s milk; fresh, high moisture mozzarella has a creamy, clean flavor and a stringy, slightly grainy texture. In applications where you would be using fresh mozzarella, such as a caprese salad, I would recommend substituting another fresh, mild cheese such as ricotta, queso fresco, cottage cheese, or farmer’s cheese. In general, fresh cheeses made from cow’s milk tend to be milder than those made from sheep’s or goat’s milk.
Low moisture mozzarella is smooth, creamy, and more easily compared to mild varieties of semisoft cheeses made from cow’s milk. For items like sandwiches, you could substitute fontina; it’s a great melting cheese and gives a little bit of a nutty flavor similar to Parmesan. Muenster, which ranges from mild to sharp, is another great option, especially milder varieties. Provolone, swiss, and gruyere are firm cheeses that can also be good substitutes for mozzarella—they are all good melting cheeses, the latter two with fruity, nutty flavor profiles. Provolone can sometimes have a sharp flavor, so be on the lookout for milder varieties as well.
When looking for a cheese that will stand in for mozzarella in cooking applications, you’re looking for a cheese that melts well. Mild cheeses will taste more similar to mozzarella, but stronger cheeses will add a different taste that you may like. Bleu cheese, for example, is very different from mozzarella but works well on buffalo chicken pizza! If you’re trying to stay close to a recipe, I recommend using very strong cheeses only in small amounts as part of a blend, but as always, experiment and see what you like!
Richard Traylor, Webstaurant, The Best Cheese for Pizza
Megan Garber, The Atlantic, Scientists Explain Why Nobody Puts Cheddar on Pizza
Fine Cooking Editors, The Science of Melting Cheese
Lauren Allen, Classic Italian Lasagna
Walks of Italy, The Only Italian Lasagna Recipe You’ll Ever Need
Candy Sagon, What America Did to Lasagna
Fooducate, 10 Things to Know About Processed Cheese
The Professional Chef, Culinary Institute of America, Ninth Edition, page 187-195