Why You Should Grate Your Own Cheese for Casseroles

Making a case for buying blocks of cheese.

Reunion Pea Casserole
Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Packaged pre-shredded cheese may be convenient—and we're all about saving a step in the kitchen—but it may not always be the best choice for certain recipes.

Nearly all brands of pre-shredded cheese contain cellulose, a flavorless additive that keeps the cheese strands from sticking and clumping together inside the bag. Potato starch is another popular way of keeping the strands dry and separate. Natamycin, another additive, prevents mold from forming.

Watch: 8 Beef Casserole Recipes for Hearty Family Dinners

These ingredients help give shredded cheese a long shelf life, but they also affect the way the cheese melts. When melted, pre-shredded cheese isn't as glossy and smooth as cheese that has been shredded by hand from a block. This is also why we don't recommend using pre-shredded cheese to make pimiento cheese—the cellulose keeps the cheese strands from sticking together and forming a creamy spread.

And if you're making a cheese-heavy casserole like macaroni and cheese, King Ranch casserole, or homemade lasagna, you want that melty cheese to be as gooey as possible. This is especially the case when it's the holiday season or you're entertaining, and want the dish to be as attractive as possible. In that case, shred the cheese by hand. (Or ask a capable kitchen helper to do it—this is a good job for kids.)

Then again, on some nights, convenience wins. (Let's be honest: on most nights convenience wins.) When getting dinner on the table now is more important than a pretty presentation, there's no shame in using pre-shredded cheese. Especially for dishes like pizza, where other ingredients shine and the cheese takes a supporting role.

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