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The 7 Best Cheeses For Chili

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There’s not many foods on this planet that aren’t made about 75% more delicious by adding cheese (yes this is a scientific measurement).

And when it comes to chili, adding toppings like sour cream, green onions, and cheese takes a dish from good to great.

But with so many types of cheese out there, how do you choose which one is going to be the best for your chili?

When it comes to choosing the best cheeses for chili, a lot of it comes down to personal preference, but there are some tried and true classic combinations that are worth trying.

So, what are the best cheeses for chili? The absolute best cheese to have with chili is cheddar cheese! If you don’t happen to like cheddar, the following cheeses also pair quite nicely with chili: Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, American cheese, blue cheese, queso, or a smokey gouda.

Read on to discover more about the best cheeses to have with chili, why they’re so great with chili, what they taste like, the other best toppings for chili, and more!

What’s The #1 Best Cheese To Have With Chili?

When it comes to choosing the best cheese to have with chili, you can’t go wrong with cheddar cheese!

This cheese is the most popular one eaten with chili because it has such a sharp flavor that complements the rich spiciness of a really good chili.

When it comes to the kind of cheddar you choose, you can go with anything from a mild cheddar to a sharp, crumbly extra old cheddar.

We’re big fans of the middle ground with an old cheddar that has a nice sharpness and great melting texture to stir into your chili.

What Are The 7 Best Cheeses For Chili?

While you can’t really go wrong with adding any type of cheese to your chili, there are a few styles that can really compliment the rich, beefy, tomato-rich, spicy flavor of a slow-simmered chili!

1. Cheddar Cheese

As mentioned above, cheddar cheese typically takes top spot in terms of the best cheese to have with chili. While it may not be as exciting as some other cheeses on this list, it is a classic for a reason.

You’re never going to be disappointed when you add a sharp cheddar to your chili since it cuts through the richness and spiciness of the tomato-based dish.

You can choose from a variety of types of cheddar cheese which will all give you a slightly different flavor profile:

  • Mild Cheddar: Buttery and mellow flavor profile, with a creamy smooth texture.
  • Medium Cheddar: Smooth and creamy flavor and texture.
  • Sharp Cheddar: Bolder, with a sharper taste that’s still balanced. A little less creamy in texture.
  • Extra Sharp/Extra Old Cheddar: Crumbly with salty cheese crystals, this cheddar has the strongest, tangiest taste of all the cheddars!

The difference in flavors comes from the aging process. Mild cheddars are typically aged for a couple of months while extra sharp or extra old cheddars can be aged for multiple years!

We suggest starting with a mild cheddar and working your way up to the tangiest. You can also try a combination of different aged cheddars for a unique flavor profile.

Bonus: Try a smoked cheddar cheese to add an incredible layer of flavor to your chili.

2. Monterey Jack Cheese

Monterey Jack cheese is one of the few kinds of cheese that is purely American.

It isn’t aged for a very long time, so the flavor profile tends to be very mild and buttery, with a subtle tang. It has a pretty creamy and supple texture, making it easy to work with.

This cheese is great to add to chili because it contains a good proportion of butterfat, which means it melts really beautifully into hot dishes. Monterey Jack cheese has a light yellow color.

In terms of similarities, it tastes close to a mild cheddar or a Colby cheese, so if you like those cheese then you’ll likely enjoy a Monterey Jack cheese.

3. Pepper Jack Cheese

Pepper Jack cheese is a variation of Monterey Jack cheese that is made with hot pickled peppers to give it more of a spicy kick.

Thanks to the high butterfat content, it melts well into chili and the spicy peppers add a little extra flavor to your dish.

The base flavor of the Pepper Jack cheese is mild, buttery, and creamy, so it’s a great choice for people who don’t love a sharp or tangy cheese, but who still want to add a little extra complexity to their chili.

Pepper Jack cheese will give you chili a rich creaminess that cuts through acidity of the tomatoes and the pickled hot peppers give it a little kick, which always goes great with a chili, especially if the one you’re eating is on the milder side.

4. American Cheese Slices

American cheese slices are a classic addition to any bowl of chili. This cheese melts super creamy and adds a salty delicious flavor profile to the rich and spicy chili.

Tomatoes and American cheddar cheese slices are a match made in heaven, which makes it a natural pairing with tomato-based chili.

We like to rip or cut the cheese slices into pieces before stirring them into the chili, so they melt more quickly and evenly and get mixed into the entire bowl.

Another option is to make a classic grilled cheese sandwich with American cheese slices and dip it into your chili for a spin on a classic tomato soup and grilled cheese.

5. Blue Cheese

Now, this option may not be for everyone because blue cheese can be quite divisive. You tend to either love it or hate it. But a relatively mild blue cheese can taste absolutely incredible with a spicy bowl of chili.

Think about how good blue cheese dressing is with spicy buffalo wings. Now imagine stirring some of that creamy blue cheese into your rich, spicy chili!

Blue cheese has a very subtle sweetness and an incredible tang that can cut through the overwhelming richness of a really slow-cooked and delicious chili.

We suggest starting with just a bit of this cheese since the flavor can be stronger than some others on this list. You can always add more cheese if you want more flavor, but it’s very hard to take it out once it’s in your bowl.

6. Salsa Con Queso

A lot of people love adding sour cream to their chili for a little tang and a smooth texture. We love adding salsa con queso to our chili because of its creamy texture, subtle kick of flavor, and absolutely delicious cheesiness.

You can try a regular salsa con queso made with orange cheese or a creamy queso blanco dip for a slightly different flavor. If you’re a fan of con queso, but you’ve never tried it in your chili, get yourself a jar and give it a try.

You can pick up a sampler pack that has a regular con queso salsa and a queso blanco right here!

7. Smoked Gouda

Even though we put a smoked on the list, you can substitute it with any type of smoked cheese and you won’t regret it. The smokiness from the cheese adds an extra layer of flavor to your chili that is akin to smoked bacon.

Gouda cheeses have a rich, nutty, caramelly taste, which some people say is similar to butterscotch. This subtle sweetness combined with the smokey flavor is a truly incredible addition to any bowl of rich and spicy chili.

We suggest picking up a young gouda as opposed to an aged gouda if you’re looking for more of a creamy texture.

Aged gouda has a more crumbly texture with salty cheese crystals that is quite similar to aged parmesan cheese.

If you like the crumbly texture and salty cheese crystals, go with an older gouda and you won’t be disappointed!

Best Toppings For Chili

While cheese might get top billing as the best topping for chili, there are lots of other delicious things you can add to your bowl to make it really sing.

We don’t recommend adding ALL of these toppings at once, but choosing a few can enhance the flavors of your chili beautifully.

Some of our favorite chili toppings include:

  • Sour cream
  • Greek yogurt
  • Pickled jalapenos
  • Pickled banana peppers
  • Fresh jalapeno slices
  • Avocado slices
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • A splash of whiskey
  • A splash of cola
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Red onion
  • An assortment of cheeses
  • A sprinkle of cocoa (adds a rich layer of flavor)
  • A sprinkle of espresso powder
  • Tortilla chips
  • A dash of soy sauce or tamari for extra umami
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Cornbread croutons
  • Mango slices for a fresh contrast
  • Hot sauce
  • Bacon bits

Do you have any favorite chili toppings that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!

Also, if you’re looking for some great, simple chili recipes, make sure to give this video from the folks over at Babish Culinary Universe a watch!

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