There’s an art to making perfect nachos, and it all starts with the cheese. The best one is easy to melt, has a robust flavor, and tastes great alone or with other toppings.
Here are 10 of the best types of cheese to put on nachos:
- Pepper/Monterey Jack
- Velveeta with ROTEL
- White American
- Nacho Cheese Sauce
- Queso Quesadilla
- Cream Cheese and Salsa
This article will discuss all ten of these cheese varieties, highlighting the things that make them perfect for nachos. I’ll also reveal one of the best-kept secrets about nachos – how to keep them from getting soggy. Keep reading to find out more.
1. Pepper/Monterey Jack
There are plenty of people out there who would disagree, but there is no better cheese for nachos than pepper jack cheese. Pepper jack is a type of Monterey jack cheese that also contains jalapeño and bell peppers, garlic, habañero chiles, and rosemary.
It’s semi-soft and has a delightful buttery but spicy taste. It melts nicely, creating an ooey-gooey coating of cheese over your chips.
The great thing about pepper jack cheese is that it has so much flavor all by itself, so if you’re running late and don’t have time to slice up all the additional toppings, you can just melt your cheese and pour it on your chips.
You’ll still get the chips, cheese, peppers, and herb flavors, with just those two ingredients.
On the other hand, it blends well with any toppings you want to add.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to pile your nachos high with beef, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and a hundred other things, that’s fine! Pepper jack cheese tastes great with all of it.
Personally, I like to purchase a Land O Lakes Hot Pepper Jack cheese block and melt it for my nachos, but you could also try this old fashioned pepper jack cheese melt (shown on Amazon), which you can use if you’re in a hurry and want something already pourable.
Additionally, if you want all the flavor of pepper jack cheese without the peppery heat, Monterey jack is perfect. It has the same great taste and texture, but it isn’t as spicy.
2. Velveeta With ROTEL
Again, there are probably plenty of people out there who would argue about this one. However, their arguments would probably be closer to, “Velveeta isn’t real cheese!” instead of anything about it not being good on nachos.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume Velveeta is a type of cheese. If you’d like to learn more about what Velveeta actually is, check out this video by The Science of Cheese author, Michael Tunick:
I love spicy nachos. That’s probably why pepper jack cheese is my favorite. However, if you don’t have pepper jack, or if you’re making a large batch of nachos for a party, Velveeta is the easier, less expensive option.
Plus, you can still get all the spice you want by mixing it with hot ROTEL.
Velveeta melts faster than just about any natural cheese product, and once it does, it’s smooth, creamy, and simple to mix with other ingredients. Furthermore, it has an excellent taste, with or without additional toppings.
Of all the different cheese varieties that people use on nachos, cheddar is probably the most popular. Cheddar is easy to obtain, has a relatively low melting point if it isn’t aged, and tastes spectacular.
Young cheddar contains more moisture than aged cheddar, meaning it will melt at 150°F (65.55°C) or lower. Once it melts, it is rich, creamy, and full of flavor. Sharp cheddar seems to provide the best taste for nachos, though most of the farmhouse cheddar cheese varieties work well, too.
Sharp cheddar is about as close as you’ll get to “stadium nachos” without making a homemade nacho cheese sauce. It’s a thick cheese, and not to sound silly, but it’s also a very cheesy cheese. There’s not much flavor to it other than cheese (unlike the multiple flavors you get with pepper jack or Velveeta with ROTEL).
If you want spice, heat, and other flavors, you’ll have to add additional toppings to get them.
The names “Asadero” and “Oaxaca” are used pretty interchangeably by most people. If you’ve ever visited a Mexican restaurant and ordered cheese dip, chances are, the server brought you out a bowl of Asadero (or Oaxaca) cheese.
A few Mexican restaurants make their cheese dip out of other types of cheese, but most of the ones I’ve visited use Asadero.
Let me rephrase that.
Every time I’ve visited a Mexican restaurant that had cheese dip that was so good I had to ask about it, the answer I received was always, “We use Asadero.”
So if you’re a fan of Mexican cheese dip, you already know how good this cheese tastes on salty, crispy tortilla chips. Now imagine that delicious, mild-flavored cheese combined with salsa, shredded chicken, peppers, guacamole, and more. It sounds delicious, I know. That’s precisely why Asadero made the list.
Best of all, Amazon.com sells my favorite brand of this cheese. If you’re interested, here it is.
5. White American
While most high-quality Mexican restaurants use Asadero/Oaxaca cheese, most grocery stores that sell “Mexican cheese dip” sell a dip made from white American cheese. Most people in the United States buy Gordo’s Cheese Dip.
If you check the ingredients on a tub of Gordo’s, the first one listed is pasteurized processed American cheese. While Gordo’s isn’t quite as delicious as restaurant-quality cheese dip, it’s still pretty good, and white American cheese is also pretty tasty on nachos.
There are only a few differences between white American and orange American cheese, but the orange variety contains annatto, which gives it its orange color. Perhaps it’s that ingredient that makes the white American taste better on nachos. Whatever the reason, if you want to use American cheese on your nachos, you might want to use white American, not orange.
6. Nacho Cheese Sauce
Nacho cheese sauce is not only one of the best types of cheese for nachos; it’s literally made for just that purpose! Concession stands at arenas, stadiums, and gyms have been selling nacho cheese-covered nachos for years, and people love them.
Luckily, all you need to make them at home are sturdy, salty chips, nacho cheese sauce, and a few optional jalapeños.
Just about any store or online retailer that sells groceries carries at least a few brands of canned nacho cheese sauce, like this really good one, shown on Amazon.com.
However, nacho cheese almost always tastes better when you make it yourself. Plus, it doesn’t have all those processed ingredients and preservatives, so it’s healthier for you, too. All Recipes has my favorite nacho cheese sauce recipe.
It takes about 30 minutes to make, and you need several ingredients for it, but it’s worth every minute and dollar you spend on it because it’s incredible.
7. Queso Quesadilla
This semi-soft, mild-flavored cheese is another favorite of many people. It’s a soft, white, stretchy cheese that both feels and tastes creamy. The best thing about queso quesadilla is that it doesn’t get runny and messy when you melt it.
Instead, it becomes soft and pliable and retains a not-entirely-liquid consistency that’s rich, thick, and enjoyable. But it isn’t messy and doesn’t make your chips soggy so quickly.
Furthermore, its unassuming flavor lends itself nicely to just about anything. If you like your nachos with chips and cheese only or piled high with a dozen toppings, queso quesadilla cheese works well for that.
However, if you want only chips and cheese but also like plenty of complex flavors, it may not be the best choice.
Martha Stewart has nothing but nice things to say about gruyere cheese, calling it the “consummate melting cheese” and “the star of classics” thanks to its exceptionally smooth texture when heated. Plus, it has a wonderfully rich, nutty, earthy, and perfectly salty flavor.
So why don’t more people use it for nachos? The short answer? Because it’s expensive.
Depending on where you buy it and which brand you buy, gruyere cheese can cost between $15 and $20 per pound. Some varieties even cost as much as $50 per pound, but if you’re looking to make the best nachos you can make, you have to consider gruyere.
It’s one of the very best, but is the price worth it for spectacular nachos? Maybe not all the time, but if you’re making some special occasion nachos, by all means, break out the gruyere.
There might be a few cheese varieties on this list that you’ve never heard of, but I’m willing to bet cold, hard cash that everyone knows mozzarella. If you’ve ever burned your lip on the melted cheese of a piping hot pizza, then you’re intimately familiar with it.
That also means you know how great it tastes and how gooey and melty it is when you heat it, which is why it makes such a delicious topping for nachos. So if you like nachos that leave long strings of cheese behind when you pull them apart, this is the cheese for you.
Coincidentally, the stringy, stick-togetherness of mozzarella is also its only downside.
The cheese doesn’t turn into a liquid that you can pour over the nachos and dip your chips in when it inevitably runs off the side.
Instead, it remains pretty solid, though stretchy and pliable, which is exactly what some people love about using it, while others hate it. Be sure you fall firmly into the former category before you break out the mozzarella nachos.
10. Cream Cheese and Salsa
I may have cheated just a little with this last one, but it’s one of my favorite nacho toppings, so I couldn’t leave it off the list. Additionally, cream cheese is a cheese, even if it’s not one people often consider adding to nachos.
When you mix it with salsa, though, it becomes a thick, silky, delicious mess that’s perfect for nachos, especially if you like them with some heat and lots of tomatoey goodness. All you have to do is mix a block of cream cheese with a jar of your favorite salsa. I like On The Border Original Hot Salsa found on Amazon.com, but any brand would work.
You can even use homemade salsa if you want.
There’s nothing to it, but if you want to see this recipe in action, check out this quick, two-minute video:
Of course, they’re using the cheese as a dip in the video, and that’s fine. Just remember that it tastes just as amazing poured over crispy tortilla chips and topped with all your favorite toppings. It’s quick, inexpensive, and delicious. What else could you need?
Best Cheese for Microwave Nachos
Finding the “best” of anything is a subjective task. As I’ve already mentioned, my “best” cheese for nachos is pepper jack, hands down. If you don’t like peppers, though, that’s probably not true for you. The same goes for finding the “best” cheese for microwave nachos because what’s best for me might not even be halfway okay for you.
The best cheese for microwave nachos is one that:
- Suits your tastes.
- Melts easily in the microwave.
- Melts quickly in the microwave so that it doesn’t start to burn.
- Won’t make your chips soggy too quickly.
- Will melt smoothly instead of turning rubbery.
With all that in mind, here are the cheese varieties I’ve found work best for microwave nachos:
- Pepper jack
- Monterey jack
- Mexican shredded cheese blend
- Oaxaca (Asadero)
Any cheese specifically designed to melt when microwaved, such as any of the Gordo’s cheese dip varieties or canned nacho cheese sauce, will also work well. However, they may make your chips soggy faster than some of the other varieties.
How Do You Make Nachos Not Soggy?
There aren’t many people in the world who enjoy soggy nachos, but despite how much we hate it, it seems like our chips always go soft and rubbery before we finish eating. While it’s true that all nachos will eventually go soggy if you leave them sitting out too long without eating them, there are things you can do to help avoid that dreaded state, assuming you eat them in a timely manner of course.
To make nachos not soggy and keep them crispy as long as possible, try these steps:
1. Use Thick, Sturdy Chips
Crispy, non-soggy nachos start with picking the correct chips. While paper-thin, super crispy chips are great for most applications, those aren’t going to hold up under the weight of all your toppings. You need a thick chip that holds together well and doesn’t “crack under pressure.”
2. Sprinkle Your Chips with Cheese and Bake Them
One of the most common mistakes people make with nachos is simply pouring everything on top of dry chips. They put their chips on a plate and start piling stuff on top of them, starting with cheese they’ve melted in the microwave.
Don’t do that! Instead, start by sprinkling your chips with cheese.
It doesn’t matter what kind of cheese you plan on using. Get a cheese grater and grate the heck out of that stuff until it’s in thin, shredded pieces. Then sprinkle those pieces over your chips and bake them.
It works so much better than pouring hot, melted cheese onto plain, room temperature chips!
3. Layer Evenly and Precisely
Finally, make sure you’re layering everything evenly across the whole expanse of the chips.
Don’t just pile everything onto the middle and hope it spills over onto the sides. Instead, start at one side of the plate and sprinkle your toppings across to the other side.
Also, be precise in your layering.
Keep your hot ingredients together and bake them all simultaneously, even if everything is pre-cooked and you’re just baking for a few minutes. Don’t add the cold toppings – salsa, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, etc. – until immediately before serving the nachos.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Leave Them Sitting Around!
Finally – and I cannot stress this enough – don’t leave your nachos sitting around the kitchen or anywhere else. Nachos are not one of those dishes you can make the night before and take to a party the following day.
Even the best nachos with the crispiest chips will eventually get soggy. You can’t make them a day or even hours ahead of time and expect the chips not to be floppy and soft when you serve them later. They are definitely an “eat right away” kind of snack.
For more, don’t miss The 10 Best Types of Cheese for Philly Cheesesteaks.
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