The Best Cheese Flavors To Pair With Turkey Burgers

Maybe you're trying to cut down on beef due to health concerns like increased risk of heart disease or cancer. Or maybe it's the environment that has you veering away from red meat after finding out about the pretty devastating effects of the beef industry. Either way, a turkey burger is not a bad alternative — especially if you smother it with toppings. And there may be no better one than cheese. But there are hundreds — nay thousands — of cheeses to choose from. (At least 1200 in France alone.) And not all are created alike.

"I would recommend something very buttery and meltable," counsels Erika Kubick, author of "Cheese Sex Death," who notes that texture is just as important as flavor. "I'd steer away from fresh goat cheese which can get a little bit dry and chalky when melted. It's a great flavor match, but I'd rather eat it on a cold sandwich with deli turkey." And don't forget that you aren't limited to cheese as a topping. "I used to make turkey burgers stuffed with roasted red peppers and fresh goat cheese, and they were fabulous," says Paris-based cheese educator Jennifer Greco. "A smoky, salty blue cheese with caramelized onions stuffed into a burger would be another top choice."

Ultimately, Kubick notes, you'll want to follow your bliss. "Everyone's palate is different so there's no one right answer," she says. That said, here are a few great suggestions.

American cheese for nostalgia

American cheese is a classic for a cheeseburger for more reasons than one. Processed cheese slices are exceptional for melting thanks to the added emulsifiers and oils, which allow the cheese to melt luxuriously without becoming stringy or oily. If you're concerned about the synthetic nature of processed cheese, brands like Andrew & Everett are looking to make healthier, more artisanal iterations of the classic; the brand's American cheese slices are made with grass-fed cow's milk devoid of r-BGH-BST hormones, fillers, and artificial colors and preservatives.

That said, Greco notes that American is not her personal cheese of choice for a turkey burger. "I appreciate the texture of melted American cheese on a burger," she says. "However, turkey meat has less flavor than beef, so a cheese with either more zip or depth of flavor would be my choice."

Kubick agrees: "It works well on a beef burger because of its mild flavor, which is amplified by the richness of the red meat," she says. "A turkey burger is much leaner, so I would recommend something more robust, like a young cheddar." That said, Kubick notes that as with anything, it's really all about personal preference. "If you like the American on the turkey, go for it!" she says.

Cheddar for classic flair

Cheddar is a real crowd-pleaser on a turkey burger, with quite a bit more flavor than processed American. Despite not being processed, it nevertheless retains a good melting capability, thanks in large part to its fairly neutral pH. As compared to more acidic cheeses like feta or cottage cheese, cheddar breaks down more easily, making it the perfect burger topping.

Kubick is a particularly big fan of the pairing of cheddar and turkey burgers. "I love cheddar because it brings a lot of tang," she says.

If you want more flavor on your turkey burger, you may be tempted to go for a more aged cheddar, but be forewarned: The older the cheese gets, the less potential you have for pretty cheese pull, due to the breakdown of the protein strands within the cheese. Choose a medium cheddar for the best balance of both flavor and texture on your turkey burger.

Blue cheese to up the flavor of the blander burger

One of the main reasons people opt for turkey is that it's leaner, but the loss of fat also contributes to less flavor. Choosing the right cheese can serve to elevate the flavor of your dish, and opting for zesty blue is a great idea if you want to add way more punch to a blander burger.

For Kubick, blue is an awesome choice. "If you want to go really bold, a soft blue is delightful!" she says — emphasis on soft. Indeed, Marguerite Merritt, cheese emissary of Rogue Creamery (which makes a blue that was recognized as Grand Champion in the 2019/2020 World Cheese Awards), tells the Cheese Professor that a milder blue can still pack a punch without overwhelming the flavor of the burger, so you may want to go for something creamier and more subtle than super-salty French Roquefort. 

You can also play with additional flavors: Smokier blue cheeses, for instance, can complement the flavor of a burger patty cooked on the grill, according to Kubick.

Smoked gouda for that char-grilled aroma

When it comes to smoked cheese, smoked gouda, which is usually smoked over hickory wood, may well be the one to beat. Indeed, Kubick calls it her top choice for a turkey burger. "That smokey flavor always adds a punch of meaty flavor, which compliments the lean turkey," she says.

Greco agrees. "Smoked turkey is delicious, so adding some smoky flavor in the form of cheese would be great," she explains.

Gouda specifically has a wonderful, buttery texture, and with its higher fat content, this Dutch cheese is actually an even better melter than cheddar. Kubick recommends reinforcing the smokiness of the cheese with a few slices of bacon and finishing the sandwich off with creamy avocado and slices of bright, fresh tomato. Cook the patty itself over a charcoal grill for an even more smoke-kissed flair, and it would be hard to imagine a tastier turkey burger.

Gruyère for a rich, buttery flavor

For Kubick, perhaps one of the best cheese choices for a turkey burger is her "all-time favorite melting cheese, Gruyère." This Swiss cheese, which was named Best Cheese in the World at the 2022 World Cheese Awards, stands out for its buttery texture and rich, nutty flavor that veers even more assertive with time and age.

Using Gruyère as a melting cheese is a no-brainer; after all, it's a classic in that Swiss cheese delicacy that is cheese fondue. Its melting ability is due in large part to its high water-to-fat ratio, which allows it to melt luxuriously and smoothly.

"Alpine-style cheeses like Gruyere add a savory, nutty flavor which works really well with turkey," says Kubick, who suggests pairing it with young cheddar on a turkey burger for a one-two punch of cheesy goodness. "You get a little bit of tangy acidity and savory richness," she says. "It's truly the best of both worlds!

Pepper jack for a bit of heat

A derivative of mild Monterey jack, which has a high fat content, a mild flavor, and excellent melting properties, pepper jack is the ideal cheese contender to kick the flavor of a milder dish up a notch. Pepper jack consists of Monterey jack flavored with both sweet and hot peppers as well as garlic for loads of additional flavor. Is it any wonder it's perfect for topping a blander turkey burger patty?

Pepper Jack is certainly a nice choice all on its own, but for the real spice heads, it can also echo heat infused into the patties themselves. In our spicy turkey burger recipe, ground turkey is flavored with aromatics and topped with a Sriracha-spiked mayo, forming the perfect base atop which to melt this chile-spiked cheese for even more heat. Add some chopped chiles to the meat for even more spice.

Feta for loads of sheepy flavor and creamy texture

Feta does not have the same melting capabilities as cheddar or American, which is due in large part to its high acidity. Cheeses with a low pH (read: higher in acid) boast tightly-bound proteins that won't collapse when heated. That said, feta does indeed soften with heat, turning creamy, not gooey like many others. It also maintains its salty, sheepy flavor — which means it can really beef up an otherwise bland turkey burger. Indeed, according Greco, feta's funkiness makes it a lovely finishing touch for a turkey burger.

And feta doesn't need to do all of the work. In this juicy turkey burger recipe, feta cheese is sprinkled atop a turkey patty that's already been seasoned with grated shallot and garlic as well as thyme, allspice, Worcestershire sauce, and goat milk, lending loads of flavor and moisture to the meat. The feta makes the ideal topping to complement the aromatic flavors.

Raclette cheese for a gooey burger with French flair

The very name of raclette cheese is an indicator of its meltability. This cheese's moniker is derived from the French word "racler," or to scrape; it makes sense when you know that the most common way to consume it is to heat the cheese on a specific contraption, making it easier to scrape it, once melted, onto piles of steamed potatoes, cornichons, and sliced charcuterie.

Given its deep meltability — and mild funk, thanks to a bit of washing in brine — raclette is a perfect contender for topping a turkey burger. You could even gild the lily by adding some French charcuterie and cornichons to the sandwich, evoking the Swiss specialty for which this cheese is so beloved even more deeply.

Choosing raclette can also pave the way for a sandwich with even more flavor: Raclette, after all, is often infused with other flavors like herbs, peppercorns, or even truffle – the perfect way to give your burger even more gourmet flair.

Brie (and cranberry sauce) in a nod to Thanksgiving

Turkey may not have actually been a main course at the first Thanksgiving, but it's a Thanksgiving tradition nonetheless, and smearing on a bit of cranberry sauce onto a turkey burger to lend some sweet-and-savory holiday flair is a nice touch. To add a bit more punch, the perfect cheese is clear: Brie isn't just a phenomenal melter, becoming gooey and soft in mere moments, but the mushroomy French cheese is a perennial pair with cranberry sauce, as in these cranberry brie bites.

Kubick is a particularly big fan of this combo. "I almost always make a turkey melt with brie and cranberry the day after Thanksgiving," she says.

Greco agrees, noting that "that sweet/salty combination with the burger would be an all-around winner." She suggests opting for double- or triple-cream Brie-style cheeses to bring in some extra fat. "A buttery, tangy triple cream such as Brillat-Savarin or Saint-André would add a lush layer of richness and moisture to a turkey burger," she suggests.

Taleggio for a touch of footy stink

Italian taleggio is an aromatic washed-rind cheese that boasts a funky intensity born of its method of production. Rubbed in brine as it ages, the cheese develops a rind of fairly stinky bacteria that lend it its umami-rich flavor (and footy odor reminiscent of a used gym bag). But taleggio's pungency is part of its charm — and when combined with its creamy texture, it's dynamite on a burger.

Taleggio melts smoothly when heated, tending to become creamy and runny rather than stretchy, like some other cheeses. If a luxurious burger with a truly assertive aroma is what you seek, look no further than this Italian cheese.

For Kubick, taleggio can also play nicely with cranberry sauce. "It adds a savory meaty flavor," she explains, and since the sweetness of the sauce can temper the assertiveness of the cheese, it's the optimal marriage.