Summer melters

Don't ruin your burger with the wrong cheese.

click to enlarge Port-Salut has such a mild and creamy flavor, you can sneak it onto your kid's burgers while still feeling like a gourmet chef. - KIRA JEFFERSON
Kira Jefferson
Port-Salut has such a mild and creamy flavor, you can sneak it onto your kid's burgers while still feeling like a gourmet chef.

Can you feel the heat? It's time to fire up that grill for some serious summer burgers! The art of a perfect hamburger is up for much debate. Whether your secret hides in the bun, in the seasoning of the beef, in the temperature of your grill or in your special sauce, everyone has their own "best" burger recipe. But whatever you do, don't get caught up in the juice dripping through your grate and forget about the importance of choosing the right cheese to top it. Some cheeses melt better than others, which will make your backyard grill the perfect place to showcase these stunning ozzers.

Beginner Melter: Port-Salut

For a party-friendly, memorable melter, use the easy-to-find Port-Salut. Port-Salut has such a mild and creamy flavor that you can sneak it onto your kids' burgers while still feeling like a gourmet chef. This luscious melter's washed rind throws it in the category of the Trappist monk style, though it never gets funky-smelling like most washed-rinds, making it excellent for beginners. The tang and acidity of Port-Salut's paste will sink deep into the crevices of your already smoking summer burgers. Keep this one simple with your traditional burger accompaniments, but if you are feeling a little frisky, add thinly sliced grilled apple for a crunchy contrast. For a great beer pairing open a sweet Chimay White (also made by Trappist monks) to wash down your burger.

Intermediate Melter: Ossau-Iraty

For an ossau-erotic cheese try this French sheep's milk. A magnificent melter, Ossau-Iraty smells of toasted hazelnuts with a sweet, yeasty and milky flavor. Eating Ossau-Iraty reminds me of biting into a buttered and toasted sourdough bun. Heated, this cheese sends stretchy strings of melted treats between everything it touches. To make an especially impressive burger with Ossau-Iraty, add a smear of cherry mostarda to a slightly charred bun. (I have even included a recipe below so you can try it for yourself.) The salty meat, sharp cheese, smoky bread, tangy mustard and sweet cherries will rock your taste buds! Choose a malty nut brown ale to go with this burger. I highly recommend Downtown Brown by Lost Coast Brewery.

Advanced Melter: Stilton

Blue cheese is not for everyone, and Stilton — well, this cheese is an acquired taste. It takes a strong, sophisticated (or maybe just really hungry) mouth to enjoy the aggressive spiciness this English cheese dishes out. That only makes me love it more. If you want to beef up your summer burgers, make them black and blue with this classic melter and watch the Stilton turn into puddles of sharp, nutty cream on your hamburgers. To really make things interesting, reduce one cup of port wine on the stovetop for every two pounds of beef you plan on using and mix it into your patties before you throw them on the grill. The old world combination of Stilton and Port will meet the classic American grilled burger in a shower of fireworks on your tongue. To douse the flames, chug a barleywine like Anchor Steam's Old Foghorn. This style of beer is almost like Port with bubbles. Now that should keep the neighbors talking!

Cherry Mostarda

By Kira Jefferson

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 bottle bottle red wine (preferably Zinfandel)

1/4 cup black pepper

2 quarts pitted red cherries

1 1/2 cups stone ground mustard

Directions:

1. Combine sugar, wine, mustard and pepper in a saucepan.

2. When mixture comes to a boil, lower heat and add cherries

3. Simmer, stirring occasionally until cherries are soft and breaking apart.

4. Cool to room temperature, store in a sealed container and keep refrigerated.

Kira Jefferson is the resident "cheese guru" at SideBern's in South Tampa.

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