Just in time for fondue season, January’s edition of Fine Cooking goes surprisingly in-depth on the topic of how to melt cheese. And this is no minor matter.

As anyone who’s tried to improvise a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, only to discover that fresh mozzarella does more of a “stretchy and stringy” thing than a “smooth and flowing” thing, knows all too well, the penalty we pay when we bungle our cheese facts is an awesome one indeed.

Fine Cooking has you covered. In this no-nonsense feature, the magazine busts out the Three Rules of Melting Cheese, the Melting Categories of Cheese (plus the Parmigiano exception!), and—in penetrating detail—the science of melting cheese.

When cheese is heated, the butterfat starts to melt at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the cheese softens. Then, as the temperature enters the 105 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit range, the cheese’s protein structure changes, and depending on what kind of cheese it is, it may begin to flow slowly like lava (think of the oozing Jack cheese in a quesadilla), or it might become stringy and elastic (think of the stretchy mozzarella on a pizza …).

Never before has so much cheese-melting knowledge been concentrated in one place with such awesome clarity. Would-be cheese masters, take note.

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