Nachos are a popular Tex-Mex appetizer or snack made of tortilla chips covered in melted cheese and various other toppings. While there are many different ways to make nachos, the base of melted cheese is key. When making nachos at home, most people opt to use pre-shredded cheese or cheese sauce from a jar for convenience. However, for truly exceptional nachos, using a block of cheese that is shredded just before serving is the way to go. The texture and flavor of freshly shredded cheese makes a major difference in the final result.
Why Use Block Cheese?
Pre-shredded cheese and cheese sauces are convenient, but block cheese offers some advantages for nachos:
- Better melting – Pre-shredded cheese is coated in cellulose to prevent clumping. This can prevent it from fully melting into that smooth, creamy texture you want for nachos.
- More flavor – Freshly shredded cheese has a richer, more pronounced flavor than pre-shredded varieties.
- Better texture – Block cheese gives you long, stringy shreds rather than the short crumbles in pre-shredded bags.
- More control over shredded texture – Shred your own cheese to your desired thickness.
Factors to Consider
When selecting a block of cheese for nachos, there are a few factors to keep in mind:
You want a cheese that will melt smoothly and evenly over the chips. Harder, aged cheeses don’t melt as well. Opt for softer, fresher cheeses.
Stronger flavored cheeses like aged cheddar or gouda hold up well as the primary cheese on nachos. Milder cheeses can work better when blended with other cheeses and toppings.
Type of Cheese
Popular options like cheddar, Monterey jack, queso quesadilla, and Oaxaca all melt well and have flavor profiles suited for nachos. Try different types alone or blended.
Ingredients like jalapeños, bacon, or other mix-ins can complement different cheese flavors.
Consider what you’ll be serving the nachos with. Certain cheeses pair better with specific toppings like guacamole, salsa, beans, etc.
The Best Cheeses for Nachos
Taking all of these factors into account, here are some excellent block cheese options to shred for nachos:
Oaxaca, also called quesillo, is a creamy, melty, off-white cheese from Mexico. It has a mild flavor with notes of grilled corn. Oaxaca melts smoothly without oil separation. It pairs well with spicy nacho toppings like jalapeños, salsa, and guacamole.
Monterey Jack is a semi-soft American cheese with a mildly tangy flavor. It melts extremely well while keeping its shape when heated. Monterey Jack is a good choice for nachos with Mexico-inspired toppings like beans, cilantro, and avocado.
Pepper Jack is Monterey Jack with added jalapeño or habanero peppers. The spicy kick balances nicely with creamy cheese and can stand up to other spicy toppings. Use Pepper Jack by itself or blended with regular Monterey Jack.
Aged cheddar has a sharper flavor that pairs well with heartier meats like chorizo, brisket, or bacon on nachos. Young or medium cheddar melts a bit more smoothly. Try white and yellow cheddars for variety.
This pale yellow Mexican cheese was made for melting. It has good elasticity when melted so it can stretch over the chips. Queso quesadilla is milder than aged cheddar but more flavorful than Monterey Jack.
Colby Jack is a blend of colby and Monterey jack cheeses. It combines the mild flavor of colby with Monterey jack’s excellent melting properties. Use Colby Jack by itself or mixed with spicier cheeses.
Asadero is a Mexican cheese similar to Oaxaca. It has a creamy, smooth texture when melted. Asadero is mildly flavored making it a flexible pairing for many nacho ingredients.
Aged gouda has a rich, nutty, caramelized flavor that can stand up to the deepest nacho toppings. It melts evenly with slight elasticity. Pair gouda with sweet ingredients like caramelized onions or pineapple.
Swiss cheese has a distinct nutty, earthy flavor. Its firm texture melts into long, stringy shreds. Swiss pairs well with cured meats like ham or salami on nachos.
Creamy havarti has small irregular holes that retain its shape when melted. It has a buttery aroma and mild flavor that pairs well with artichokes, roasted peppers, and pesto on nachos.
Cheddar and Monterey Jack
For a classic nacho cheese flavor, combine shredded cheddar for sharpness with Monterey Jack for smooth melting. Adjust the ratio to your taste preference. This combo works with any nacho toppings.
Mixing Oaxaca, asadero, and queso quesadilla cheeses mimics the creamy melted queso dip you find at Tex-Mex restaurants. Use this cheese blend as a base and add spicier cheeses like pepper jack for your own custom nacho cheese sauce.
Tips for Melting Cheese
To get the best melted cheese for your nachos, follow these tips:
- Shred cheese just before serving for maximum freshness.
- Use a low moisture cheese – Wetter cheeses won’t melt as smoothly.
- Grate cheese into shreds rather than small crumbles.
- Spread shredded cheese evenly over chips.
- Make sure cheese is room temperature before melting for even results.
- Keep layer of cheese thin – too thick and the middle may not fully melt.
- Melt low and slow. Bake at 325°F or melt over low heat on the stove.
- Cover nachos with foil while baking or melting to trap heat.
- Switch to broil for 1-2 minutes at the end to crisp and brown the cheese.
Once your cheese is melted to perfection, here are some tasty mix-ins and toppings to take your nachos up a notch:
- Refried or black beans
- Seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken
- Sour cream
- Pico de gallo
- Caramelized onions
- Roasted peppers and corn
- Queso fresco
- Hot sauce
- Lime juice
- Cotija cheese
- Chopped green onion
Get creative with your favorite toppings! The cheese you select as your base will impact how well it pairs with different mix-ins. Balance out any strong flavored cheeses with fresher toppings.
When making nachos at home, start with a high quality block of cheese hand shredded right before serving. Oaxaca, Monterey Jack, cheddar blends, queso quesadilla, asadero, and pepper jack are all excellent melty choices. Shred your cheese over chips in a thin, even layer and melt at a low temperature until smooth and creamy. Top with your favorite spices and ingredients for personalized nachos bursting with cheesy flavor. With the right block of cheese, you can create restaurant-quality nachos at home that will be a major crowd pleaser!