Cheese is one of the most versatile and delicious food items in the world. It works well on sandwiches, in soups, and on its own.
However, cheese is so versatile that it might transcend our basic definitions of food. Is cheese the main food ingredient, or does it count as a condiment?
The correct answer is that cheese can be either, depending on how you’re using it. The cheese used to enhance the flavor or as a topping is technically a condiment, while cheese is eaten as a main dish or raw as a food item.
Because of the definition of a condiment, how you use cheese is what decides whether it’s a condiment or a food item.
Here is a more distinct definition of what cheese is, what a condiment is, and how cheese manages to fit in both categories while remaining so delicious.
What Is Cheese?
Cheese is a dairy product made with milk, bacterial enzymes, and salt. There are technically only eight types of cheese, and the hundreds of different names and brands are variations on these.
These types of cheese vary from soft to hard and are all aged differently.
However, all cheeses are made the same way: by purposely aging milk until it hardens into curds, then cheese. Cheesemakers add healthy, safe bacteria to complete the process properly.
The flavorings are added during the curdling process, and the variety of bacteria, enzymes, and time all make the cheese harder or softer.
What Is a Condiment?
A condiment is defined by the dictionary as “something used to enhance the flavor of food.” This definition is relatively vague, but a condiment is anything that is mixed in, sprinkled on, or used as a topping or dip for food but isn’t the main ingredient.
Most commonly, spices and sauces are considered condiments.
With this definition, it’s easy to see that cheese sometimes fits the condiment box and sometimes is the main ingredient.
Sometimes, we top things with cheese or dip things in cheese. Other times, we eat cheese on its own. Let’s look closely at some individual situations and see when cheese is a condiment versus when it’s the main ingredient.
When Is Cheese a Condiment?
You can consider cheese a condiment when you use it as extra flavoring, but don’t necessarily need it for the dish. For example, if you’re making chili and have shredded cheese as a topping, it’s a condiment.
In a salad or as part of a taco bar, cheese is a condiment.
Cheese is also a condiment when it’s a topping for something or you don’t eat it raw.
For example, any time you use canned cheese, melted cheese, or queso, it’s probably being used as a condiment for whatever you’re putting it on or dipping in it.
Shredded or grated cheese is almost always used as a condiment–you rarely eat shredded cheese raw or without another food group to accompany it.
Because it is usually eaten as part of a recipe or a topping, shredded cheese is generally considered a condiment instead of a form of food.
Essentially, if you can get away without using the cheese and the meal is still full, it’s probably a condiment in that situation.
This would include salads, soups, some sandwiches with several ingredients (not grilled cheese), dipping cheese, or shredded cheese.
When Is Cheese a Food?
However, cheese becomes a food when it is necessary to a dish and part of the main ingredients. In some cases, this can seem similar to a condiment situation.
If you couldn’t make the dish without cheese, then it’s the main ingredient and can be defined as food.
For example, a grilled cheese needs cheese–otherwise, it’s just toasted bread. Also, while you would count cheese in chili as a condiment, beer cheese soup is mostly cheese. Therefore, the main food ingredient.
Anytime you are eating cheese raw or using it as the main part of your dish, it is food. Charcuterie boards, fondue, and cheese on a fruit platter are all examples of cheese as a food.
Cheese continues to amaze us with its versatility and taste. Whether you use crumbled Feta cheese, grated parmesan, or shredded cheddar, your condiment game can be upped with some prepared cheese.
However, you might have some further questions.
Is melted cheese a condiment?
For the most part, melted cheese is probably a condiment. Think about queso or nachos–the cheese on top is one of the best parts, but you could still eat the chips without it.
However, there are times when the condiment does become the main food group.
A queso platter or fondue plate is an example of this. Technically, cheese is still a condiment in these situations.
However, the entire dish does revolve around melted cheese, so it’s easy to pull it over to the main food category.
Is raw cheese a condiment?
Raw cheese can be a condiment, depending on how you use it. If you’ve grated or shredded asiago cheese for your pasta or salad, it’s a condiment. It enhances the flavor of the dish but isn’t strictly necessary.
However, if you’re making a charcuterie board or just eating slices of cheese and crackers as a snack, the cheese isn’t a condiment.
You could technically eat the crackers alone, but you’re using them as a vessel for the cheese. It’s the main food group at that point.
Is shredded cheese a condiment?
Shredded cheese is almost always a condiment since it’s used primarily in recipes, salads, or as a topping.
Of course, if you eat shredded cheese raw and on its own (not as part of any other dish) it becomes food.
Eating cheese, whether sliced, string cheese, or mini cheese rounds as a snack without anything else also squarely puts cheese into the same category as food.
You wouldn’t eat a condiment on its own; it was meant to be a flavor enhancer. Cheese, however, can be both a condiment and a standalone food, depending on how you use it.