So this one time, I went to a restaurant and ordered some nachos, and then the power went out while they were cooking so the cheese wasn’t all the way melted. The waiter told me to that I didn’t have to eat them, but I said no no no, I wanted them. Let me tell you, getting a plate of nachos with a bunch of unmelted shredded cheese on top, not so tasty, but cheese, normally tasty. Wassup with that?
Cheese Milk Protein Matrix. Yeah that’s right, you just got blasted by some science all up in your grill, or broiler depending on your kitchen setup. On a molecular level the milk proteins form a nice solid little matrix, like The Matrix. Once you get some heat on those bad boys (150 degrees fahrenheit for cheddar as dictated by the laws of thermodynamics) the solid matrix bonds start breaking down into a big ol’ mess, like The Matrix Reloaded. The creamy goo result of this is what turns that shredded cheese from the modest 7 that you bring home to your family to the sexy 11 that you parade around town, show off to your friends, and top your nachos off with.
Exactly what witchcraft is it that makes melted cheese so delicious and appealing to us humans? Buckle up for the shocking truth, which is that nobody knows for sure. However, humankind’s proclivity for melted cheese is matched only by our proclivity for trying to find out how stuff does stuff, so here are some possible theories:
WARMTH: Food author and guy with a Ph. D from Yale University Harold McGee put forward the theory in his bestseller On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Described by Alton Brown as “The Rosetta Stone of the Culinary World”) that humans find warm cheese in their mouths more pleasurable than cold. Sure, this doesn’t hold true to all people, like the whole Cold Food Movement or that roommate you had in college that never heated anything up before eating it, but hey, it’s a theory. The same people who prefer their cheese cold are probably the same ones that prefer their gazpacho hot, abominations.
TEXTURE: A group of Dutch scientists gave a bunch of test subjects an “Experimental Vanilla Custard” (Which was also the name of my favorite 90’s alternative band) to examine the mouth feel (FYI: “Mouth Feel” is the foodie/hipster term for texture) of said custard and how it appealed to them. Taking things like viscosity and surface appearance into account, overall they found that the subjects far prefered custards that create less friction in the mouth. Had you ever even considered that your food has friction associated with it? Will you ever be able to eat again now that you are aware of this terrible knowledge, or will you be like the millipede that when asked how it was able to walk on all those legs found that it could no longer do so when thinking about it? It’s an Aesop's fable and a science fact, look it up. Anyhow, if it holds true that smoother custards are prefered by humans in theory it may also hold true for smoother cheeses as well.
So what does this all mean for nachos? Basically combining the sensations and flavors of melted cheese in your mouth really jacks up your nervous system like a hit of food crack as we humans love our fatty delights. Via evolution our mouth receptors prefer our foods as oily and calorie intensive as possibly, and if they’re not then covered in something that’s an oily and calorie intensive mess is just as good. So the next time your nervous system is in need of some stimulation, put down the cocaine, toss aside the amphetamines, and get yourself some nachos. Hell, order them with extra cheese, you’re not responsible for what you’re cramming into your maw, biology is making you and it’s not your fault. That’s an acceptable excuse right? Right?