9 Best Cheeses for French Onion Soup: Unveil Gourmet Choices!

There’s nothing quite as comforting on a cold day as a piping hot bowl of French onion soup. The sweet, caramelized onions swimming in a savory beef broth, topped with a thick slice of crusty bread and melted cheese is the ultimate cozy dish. But not all cheeses are created equal when it comes to getting that perfect oozing, bubbling topping that takes this soup over the top.

So what exactly is the best cheese for French onion soup? Let’s take a deep dive into this deliciously cheesy topic.

A Little Background on French Onion Soup

Before we get into the cheese, it helps to know a bit about the history and makes this soup so special. While onions have been used in soups and stews for thousands of years across many cultures, French onion soup as we know it today likely originated in France, possibly as far back as the 13th or 14th century.

In its early incarnations, it was a humble peasant dish made from the basics onions, butter, and bread. Over the centuries it evolved, with the addition of meat broth and even champagne or cognac for extra flair. But it was the addition of the melted cheese topping in the 18th century that took this soup to new levels of tastiness.

There are a few legends about the origins of French onion soup:

  • One credits King Louis XV who, after a late night of drinking, scrounged up some onions, butter, and champagne from the royal kitchen to create an impromptu snack.
  • Another points to famous chef Nicolas Appert, who made the soup for King Stanislas Leszczynski in the 1700s. After just one taste, the king was addicted and demanded the recipe.

Whatever the true origins, French onion soup became popular in Parisian cafes and brasseries by the 19th century. It was considered a warming, hangover cure after a long night out. French onion soup grew famous worldwide in the 1960s and 70s and became a staple menu item in French restaurants internationally.

Selecting the Onion: A Key Ingredient

While the cheese rightfully gets a lot of attention, it’s important to note that the onions are arguably the star of the show when it comes to French onion soup. Without caramelized, deeply sweet onions, you simply won’t achieve the same levels of flavor.

Onions are sautéed over low heat for 30-45 minutes until golden brown, soft, and incredibly sweet. This long cooking time extracts the natural sugars from the onions, transforming them into something truly irresistible.

So which onion works best? Good options include:

  • Yellow onions: The most common choice, yellow onions caramelize nicely and provide a subtle sweet onion flavor.
  • White onions: These bring a mild oniony taste without overpowering other ingredients.
  • Sweet onions: Vidalia, Walla Walla, or other sweet onion varieties add extra sweetness as they caramelize.
  • Shallots: More subtle in flavor than regular onions, shallots add a gourmet twist.

No matter which you choose, be sure your onions are sliced thinly and evenly to caramelize at the same pace. Now, let’s get to the good stuff…time to talk cheese!

Melty Cheese Options for the Perfect Topping

Bubbling, oozing, melted cheese crowning each piping hot bowl of French onion soup is what takes it over the top. But nailing the right cheese or cheese blend is key.

Here are some top contenders for best cheese for French onion soup:


This semi-hard Swiss cheese is the gold standard when it comes to the classic French onion soup recipe. Gruyère has a creamy, slightly nutty flavor that pairs perfectly with sweet caramelized onions. It has just a touch of saltiness to offset the rich broth.

Gruyère melts beautifully into silky smooth deliciousness. It forms those ideal stretchy cheese pulls that make eating French onion soup so satisfying.

True Gruyère is made in the Gruyères region of Switzerland from cow’s milk. It has a distinctive rust colored rind and creamy ivory interior. When grated, it melts evenly over the top of the soup.


Emmental is another Swiss cheese that ticks all the boxes for French onion soup. Like Gruyère, it melts extremely well, with a smooth, silky texture when heated.

It shares that iconic holey Swiss cheese appearance, but the holes are actually much smaller in authentic Emmental. This helps it melt into such a perfect topping.

Emmental has a mild, nutty, but slightly sweet flavor that won’t compete with the caramelized onions. Yet it adds a distinctive flavor pairing that takes the soup to new heights.


This French cheese is often recommended as an alternative to Gruyère in French onion soup recipes. In fact, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two!

Comté comes from the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. It shares a similar nutty, salty flavor with Gruyère, along with excellent melting properties. As a French cheese, it’s an extremely fitting choice for French onion soup.


Hailing from the French Alps, the Beaufort cow’s milk cheese also makes a fine stand-in for Gruyère. It contains a slightly stronger, more robust flavor than Gruyère, but melts beautifully.

The texture is supple and smooth when melted, with an aged nuttiness that complements the sweet onions. Choose an aged Beaufort for the best flavor in French onion soup.


This Norwegian cheese has a subtle sweetness similar to Swiss Emmental. Its smooth, shiny yellow interior and large holes give it a distinct look.

Jarlsberg melts superbly, forming a light crispy crust on top as it bubbles. The mild yet nutty flavor blends nicely into French onion soup without overpowering it.


Raclette is another mountain cheese from the French Alps that checks the boxes for French onion soup. Traditionally it was melted over meats and potatoes as the key ingredient in the dish Raclette.

For the soup, Raclette melts smoothly with a slight airy quality. The flavor is mild, nutty, and slightly fruity, pairing nicely with the soup’s ingredients.


While not the most traditional choice, fresh mozzarella can also serve as a tasty cheese topping for French onion soup. Excellent melting is a prime characteristic of mozzarella.

Choose fresh mozzarella packed in water rather than pre-shredded mozzarella for the best flavor and melt-ability. The soft, milky flavor blends deliciously into the broth.

Just note that mozzarella on its own may not provide enough flavor depth. Mixing it with Gruyère or Parmesan can improve the flavor profile.


Most any good melty Swiss cheese can be used on top of French onion soup in a pinch. Overall, Swiss has excellent melting properties and a mildly nutty flavor to complement the broth and onions.

Just be aware that typical mass-produced Swiss cheese lacks the depth of flavor of cheeses like true Gruyère. Using a mixture of Swiss cheese and Parmesan or Asiago can ramp up the flavor.


Both regular and smoked provolone work quite well on top of French onion soup. Provolone melts smoothly with that ideal stretchy character.

Regular provolone provides a mild, buttery flavor, while smoked provolone brings a smoky tang that adds another dimension to the soup. Combining provolone with mozzarella or Parmesan can also be delicious.

Broiling the Cheese to Perfection

To achieve that crispy, bubbling cheese topping, French onion soup must be finished by broiling or baking at high heat. Here are some tips for broiling success:

  • Make sure your soup bowls or crocks are broiler-safe. Broil 4-6 inches from heat source.
  • Grate cheeses finely so they melt evenly over bread.
  • Place bread slices on bottom of oven-safe bowls, then top with cheese. This prevents soggy bread.
  • Broil for 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted, bubbly, and starting to brown.
  • Watch carefully to prevent burning. Finish under broiler takes just minutes.

The ideal French onion soup cheese topping should be gooey, slightly crispy around the edges, and perfect for dipping your spoon into again and again.

What About the Bread?

An excellent cheese topping isn’t complete without the bread underneath to soak up all that delicious soup. Traditional French onion soup uses a baguette sliced 1⁄2 to 1 inch thick. The bread should be slightly stale or toasted to prevent it from getting too soggy.

Sourdough, ciabatta, or other artisan breads also work well. For gluten-free options, try gluten-free bread or croutons. The slices or croutons should just cover the surface of the soup bowl so that cheese can melt over the top.

Storing Leftover Cheese

Odds are you’ll have some leftover cheese after assembling a batch of French onion soup. Luckily, most cheeses that work well for this soup also store reasonably well. Tightly wrap cheese in plastic wrap or foil and store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Harder cheeses like Gruyère will keep longer, while soft fresh mozzarella may only last 1 week. Make sure all cheese is re-wrapped tightly after each use.

Leftover cheese can be used in omelets, pasta bakes, grilled cheese, salads, cheese plates, and more. Freeze shredded or crumbled cheese in airtight bags for longer storage.

Cooking Up the Perfect French Onion Soup

Now that you know what makes the best cheese for French onion soup, it’s time to get cooking! Follow these tips for success:

  • Caramelize the onions low and slow – This builds maximum flavor.
  • Use a flavorful beef broth – Homemade or a high-quality broth makes a difference.
  • Add herbs and spices – Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce can all provide depth.
  • Toast the bread – Lightly toasting or broiling bread first prevents sogginess.
  • Grate cheese finely – This helps it melt smoothly and evenly over the bread.
  • Broil at the end – Finish under the broiler for a beautifully browned cheese topping.

With its incredible smells and flavors, bubbling crocks of French onion soup are always crowd-pleasers. Once you discover your favorite cheese for the topping, this soup is sure to become a regular treat. The search for cheese perfection is well worth it.

Best Cheeses for French Onion Soup

Discover the perfect cheeses for French onion soup with options like Gruyère, Emmental, Comté, and more. Achieve the ideal melty, gooey topping for this classic and comforting dish.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Cheese
Cuisine French
Servings 1


  • Gruyère
  • Emmental
  • Comté
  • Beaufort
  • Jarlsberg
  • Raclette
  • Mozzarella
  • Swiss
  • Provolone


  • Caramelize sliced onions in butter or oil over low heat for 30-40 minutes.
  • Add beef or chicken stock and herbs like thyme and bay leaf. Simmer soup for 30 minutes.
  • Toast or grill bread slices while soup simmers.
  • Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls and top with 1-2 slices of toasted bread.
  • Sprinkle grated Gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese over the bread slices.
  • Broil soup bowls for 2-3 minutes until cheese is bubbly and melted.
  • Can also top with shaved Parmesan or croutons for extra crunch.
Keyword Best Cheeses for French Onion Soup

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