Cheese is a beloved ingredient used in cooking and recipes around the world. From melty mozzarella on pizza to sharp cheddar in mac and cheese, cheese adds flavor, texture, and joy to many dishes.
When it comes to buying cheese at the grocery store, you have two main options - purchasing a block of cheese or a bag of pre-shredded cheese.
Key Takeaway: Block cheese and shredded cheese each have their pros and cons. Block cheese is often cheaper, melts better, and has fewer additives, while shredded cheese offers convenience. Evaluate your needs and preferences to decide which is better for you.
A Comparison of Block and Shredded Cheese
There are some key differences between block cheese and pre-shredded cheese:
- Block cheese is often less expensive than pre-shredded cheese ounce for ounce. When you shred at home, you aren't paying for the added labor and processing costs of shredding and packaging. The price difference can range from 20 cents to over $1 more per pound for pre-shredded cheese.
- Pre-shredded cheese saves time and effort since there is no need to manually shred the cheese yourself. This makes it more convenient, especially for busy cooks.
- Block cheese tends to melt better than pre-shredded cheese. The anti-caking agents added to shredded cheese prevent the shreds from fully melting together into a smooth, creamy consistency.
- Pre-shredded cheese contains potato starch, cellulose, and/or natamycin as anti-caking agents to prevent clumping. Block cheese does not contain these extra additives.
- Unopened block cheese can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks or months. Shredded cheese has more surface area exposed to air, reducing its shelf life. However, bags of shredded cheese are resealable.
- Block cheese can be shredded, sliced, or diced for use in recipes. Shredded cheese can only be used as shredded.
Pros of Block Cheese
Purchasing cheese in block form and shredding it yourself at home has some advantages:
Lower Cost Per Ounce
Buying a block of cheese and shredding it is the cheaper option per ounce in most cases. Pre-shredded cheese costs more due to the additional processing, shredding labor, and packaging. The difference may seem small, but it can add up to over $100 per year for an average family. Getting more cheese for your money makes block cheese the budget-friendly choice.
Better Melting Ability
The anti-caking agents added to pre-shredded cheese, like potato starch and cellulose, inhibit the cheese from fully melting into a creamy liquid when heated. The emulsifying salts in processed shredded cheese also change the melting properties. The result can be a clumpy melted cheese layer instead of a smooth, creamy, fully-melted consistency. This makes a big difference in dishes like pizza, nachos, pasta, and soups. Block cheese gives you that dreamy, liquid melted cheese.
Besides cheese, pre-shredded packages contain potato starch, powdered cellulose (wood pulp), and natamycin as anti-caking agents. While considered safe to consume, some people prefer to avoid these extra additives. By shredding your own from a block, you know you are getting pure cheese with no added ingredients.
More Authentic Flavor
With the extra ingredients and processing involved, pre-shredded cheese can lose some of the fresh, subtle flavors of real cheese. The texture also becomes a bit dried out compared to freshly shredded cheese. Using block cheese gives you cheese in its purest form, with the richest, most authentic taste.
The dried-out texture of pre-shredded cheese is noticeable in certain dishes. Freshly shredded cheese has a softer, creamier texture that adds luxurious mouthfeel. The wood pulp and potato starch can give packaged shredded cheese a gritty, powdery texture.
Customize Shredding Size
Shredding your own cheese allows you to customize the size you shred it. Some recipes call for a finer grate, while others need larger shreds. Having control over the shred size means you can get the exact texture you want.
Pre-shredded cheese is convenient, but also limiting. Block cheese offers a wider selection of cheese types, brands, ages, and qualities to choose from. With block cheese, you aren't constrained to what's available pre-shredded.
Can Adjust Amount
When cooking, it's impossible to know exactly how much shredded cheese you'll need. Having a block allows you to start with the amount you think you need, then grate more on the spot if required. No need to open a new bag.
Shredding right before using means you get the freshest tasting cheese. Pre-shredded cheese has sat around longer before you eat it. Eating cheese within days of shredding gives it a fresher, creamier flavor.
You get more cheese for your money buying blocks. When weighing pre-shredded bags, they often contain less cheese by volume than stated. You aren't being overcharged if you shred it yourself.
Buying block cheese reduces packaging waste since you aren't throwing out all those plastic bags. Purchase a reusable container to store shredded cheese to be even more eco-friendly.
Cons of Block Cheese
While it has many benefits, there are a few downsides to purchasing block cheese:
Requires Manual Labor
It takes time and physical effort to shred cheese yourself. Having to shred cheese before cooking makes the process less convenient than just pouring pre-shredded cheese straight from the bag.
Risk of Injury
Using a grater or shredder poses a risk of cutting your fingers or grating your knuckles if you aren't careful. This can be dangerous and painful.
You need the proper grater, shredder, processor, or other tools to shred block cheese. Make sure you have what you need before bringing home a block.
Cheese Dries Out Faster
Unlike an airtight bag, any cut block of cheese will dry out faster in the fridge. Only shred what you plan to use within a few days and reseal or wrap tightly.
No Resealable Packaging
Shredded cheese in a bag can easily be resealed and saved for later use. No such luck with an open block of cheese. Make sure to have storage containers, wrap tightly, or freeze to prevent drying out.
Clumping When Warm
Shredding cheese yourself can result in annoying clumping if the cheese gets warm. The anti-caking agents in pre-shredded prevent this. Letting cheese cool before shredding helps.
It takes experience to know how much cheese you need. With blocks, any unused shredded cheese has to be thrown out since it dries out. Overestimating how much cheese you need can waste food.
Using a grater or processor to shred cheese dirties more dishes to clean up afterwards. Pre-shredded cheese eliminates this extra cleaning step.
Pros of Pre-Shredded Cheese
While there are reasons to go for block, pre-shredded cheese also has many benefits:
Nothing is easier than pouring cheese straight from the bag onto your dish. No prep or tools needed. The time saved shredding makes pre-shredded cheese extremely convenient and quick.
Shredding block cheese can get messy, leaving shreds all over your work surface. Pre-shredded cheese contains the mess.
Won't Clump When Warm
Cheese shreds have a tendency to stick together at room temperature or when slightly warm. The anti-caking agents coating pre-shredded prevent any clumping, even if it gets warm.
No Special Tools Needed
As long as you have a bag, you can use pre-shredded cheese. Block cheese requires having the proper shredder, grater, processor or other special tools on hand.
Pre-shredded cheese offers consistent shred size and shape. Hand grating can result in irregular sizes. Uniform shreds mean even melting.
You can use just as much cheese as you need from a bag then reseal it. No cheese gets wasted since any unused shreds get sealed up. Blocks often lead to wasted grated cheese that goes bad.
If you aren't going to use an entire block of cheese quickly, pre-shredded has a longer shelf life. The bag protects the shreds from air exposure.
Kids love to be involved in cooking. Pre-shredded cheese allows kids to help without risk of grating fingers. It offers a safer, easier way for children to help.
Limits Cheese Usage
When you have to shred cheese yourself, you may be more mindful of how much you use. Pre-portioned pre-shredded amounts can help limit overuse.
No Knuckle Grating
Using a hand grater risks painful and unpleasant grating of skin and knuckles. Pre-shredded cheese avoids this problem.
With no need for a grater or processor, pre-shredded cheese results in fewer dishes to wash afterwards. Less cleanup makes it even easier.
Key Differences Summarized
|Block Cheese||Pre-Shredded Cheese|
|Cheaper per ounce||More expensive per ounce|
|Melts smooth and creamy||Melts unevenly|
|No additives||Contains anti-caking additives|
|Must shred yourself||Ready to use|
|Can customize shred size||Uniform shreds|
|Fresher flavor||Stale flavor|
|Soft, creamy texture||Dry, gritty texture|
|More cheese options||Limited options|
|Can adjust amount used||Set amount in bag|
|Requires tools to shred||No tools needed|
|Dries out quicker once cut||Stays fresh in bag|
|Can waste unused shredded cheese||No waste|
|Messy to shred||Contained mess|
|Risk of cutting fingers||Kid-friendly|
|Takes time and effort to shred||Super convenient|
|Can clump when warm||Doesn't clump|
Choosing Between the Two Types of Cheese
With the differences compared, which type of cheese should you choose? Here are some factors to help decide:
How will you use it?
- If making a dish where smooth melting is key (like pizza, pasta, or queso), go for block for the best melted consistency.
- If topping a baked potato or salad, convenience may be more important so pre-shredded works.
What's your budget?
- If you need to pinch pennies, block saves the most money per ounce.
- If convenience is more important than price, pre-shredded may fit your budget better.
How much effort do you want to spend?
- If short on time and energy, pre-shredded eliminates laborious shredding.
- If you have time to grate and value pure ingredients, block is worth the effort.
What tools do you have?
- If you lack proper graters, shredders or processors, pre-shredded avoids needing special tools.
- If you have the right cheese shredding tools, take advantage by purchasing block.
Do you hate waste?
- If efficiency matters and you don't want to waste cheese, pre-shredded lets you use exactly what you need.
- If an airtight container or freezer is available, buy a block so unused cheese doesn't go bad.
How soon will you use it?
- If planning to use immediately, block cheese will be freshest.
- If making a recipe later in the week, pre-shredded preserves freshness longer.
Does texture matter?
- If you want silky smooth melted cheese, block gives the best results.
- If cheese texture isn't critical, pre-shredded works fine.
Tips for Making Block Cheese Easier
If you want to use block cheese for its benefits but find it inconvenient, try these tips:
- Shred a large batch then freeze in portions so ready-to-go cheese is available whenever. Thaw before using.
- Use a food processor with a shredding blade for fast, easy shredding instead of hand grating.
- Buy cheese when on sale and shred what you'll use within a week. Freeze the remaining block.
- Plan ahead and shred cheese for recipes before you start cooking so it's ready when you need it.
- Chill cheese in the fridge or freezer before shredding for easier, cleaner shredding.
- Use gloves when shredding to protect hands from grater wounds.
- Get a shredder attachment that connects to a stand mixer to power through shredding hands-free.
Shredded cheese offers convenience, while block cheese provides cost savings and the best melting texture and flavor. There are convincing arguments for both options. The better choice comes down to your needs, preferences, and situation. Many devoted home cooks prefer the quality of block cheese, while busy families may opt for the ease of pre-shredded cheese. Taste test the two types side-by-side in your favorite recipes and experience the difference first-hand. Whichever you choose, one thing is certain - cheese adds delicious flavor!
Key Takeaway: Evaluate your cooking needs and preferences, try both kinds of cheese, and decide which is best for your goals and lifestyle. Both block and pre-shredded cheese can have a place in your kitchen.
Frequently Asked Questions About Block vs Shredded Cheese
Is block cheese healthier than pre-shredded?
Block cheese is healthier purely in terms of containing fewer ingredients and additives. Other than that, both contain similar nutrients. Pre-shredded has additional anti-caking agents, but they are considered safe to eat.
Does block cheese really melt better?
Yes, block cheese generally melts into a smooth, creamy consistency better than pre-shredded. The additives in pre-shredded cheese inhibit it from fully melting together. This makes block better for dishes like grilled cheese.
Is there really a big price difference?
There is generally a 20 cent to $1 per pound price difference, with block cheese being cheaper. For a family that uses a lot of cheese, this can add up to over $100 saved annually by buying block.
Can you freeze shredded cheese from blocks?
Yes, shredded cheese can be frozen in airtight bags or containers for up to 3 months. It may become slightly crumbly but will still retain good flavor. Thaw before using.
Should you shred mozzarella yourself?
Fresh mozzarella should not be pre-shredded or it will stick together. Harder aged mozzarella blocks can be hand shredded and frozen well. Buy fresh mozzarella pre-shredded or in balls.
What is the best cheese to buy as a block?
Hard cheeses like parmesan, cheddar, gruyere, asiago, and gouda shred and freeze well. Soft cheeses like goat cheese are best bought pre-crumbled. Buy mozzarella pre-shredded.