The Only Type Of Cheese You Should Use On A Chopped Cheese Sandwich

The chopped cheese sandwich has been an internet star for years, and as with so many famous sandwiches, there are a few rules for getting it right. The first thing to know about it is that it is not a cheesesteak, and it's not a hamburger, no matter how much some people (who think the chopped cheese is nothing but New York City hype) may tell you. Despite combining some aspects of both recipes, the taste and texture of a chopped cheese is meaningfully different from both these things. It's made from ground beef — not the sliced steak of Philly, but ground beef that has been chopped and griddled with spices in a way distinct from a burger as well. It's served on a hero or hard roll, not a hamburger bun. Finally, unlike its other beefy cousins, there's only one right cheese to put on it, and that is American cheese.

American cheese may be your favorite choice for a burger, but cheddar, Swiss, and plenty of others still make great options. This is not the case with the chopped cheese sandwich. The origin of New York's chopped cheese sandwich reportedly came from an NYC bodega and a chef named Carlos Soto. It's a fundamentally cheap sandwich that only works because of the specific alchemy of its ingredients, especially the way the cheese melts through the chopped bits of meat and becomes something closer to a cheese sauce ... and no cheese melts quite like American.

The melting properties of American cheese are essential to a chopped cheese sandwich

Why is American cheese special when it comes to melting? Well, it has to do with it being processed. Not quite the bad word you might be thinking it is, the processing part of American cheese simply requires melting real cheese and mixing it with an emulsifying agent and salt like sodium citrate, then reforming it into cheese blocks. It's not that different from creating cheese sauce in your own kitchen using ingredients like flour, and it is still mostly natural cheese. But the emulsification process gives American cheese a much stronger structure than non-processed cheese, which prevents it from breaking when it melts or from getting rubbery as it cools. It's as simple as that.

For chopped cheese, it really is the texture that matters. American cheese isn't the most flavorful, but the creamy, melty cheese really complements the texture and flavor of the browned, crispy ground beef, which has also been punched up with extra spices like sazón or adobo. Even the wrapping of the sandwich is essential to achieving the chopped cheese texture, as a foil wrap helps trap the heat and steam after cooking, making the cheese even more melty and keeping it that way. But none of that comes together without the cheese being American, and for a meal that's a classic product of working-class immigrant culture, it's a fitting bit of serendipity.