Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Dehydrating cheese

Do an internet search of how to dehydrate cheese and you will get dozens, or maybe hundreds, of ways blogged about or demonstrated on youtube.  All of them wrong.  Well, the ones I saw were wrong.  Bless their hearts, they were trying.  They were just putting way too much effort into a very simple process.

Why do I say the way they are dehydrating cheese the wrong way?  Because every post I read and every youtube I watched involved a heat producing machine of some type.   Either a dehydrator or an oven.  Don’t those bloggers realize heat melts cheese and brings out the oils.  The oils are what makes the cheese so cheesy.  You want it to stay in the cheese.  Basically all they are doing is cooking the cheese until it’s crispy and greasy.  So I’ll go back to the wisdom of my Grandma Mama who never intentionally dehydrated cheese.  There were no “mac & cheese” dinners in a box in her pantry.

I became interested in dehydrating cheese because I want to make my own version of dump and cook meals.  I want to stop buying boxes of dehydrated foods.  I have the ability to make my own for a fraction of the cost. Quite frankly I haven’t bought a dump & cook dinner in several years but my neighbors do.  I knew I could purchase a quantity of the powdery cheese flavored stuff  on the internet but I wanted to make my own.  I did online research to see what other people were doing.  Life is usually easier if someone has already figured out a technique.  Less stress on a senior mind.

Yeah, yeah, I know you are wondering what IS a better way to dehydrate cheese?  Let me ask you this, have you ever left a piece of cheese uncovered in the fridge or on the counter only to come back later to find it’s dried out? Yeah?  Well that’s dehydrated cheese.  No heat.  Just simply left alone to do it’s own thing with the air around it.  The next time you find a piece of dried out cheese, don’t throw it away, it’s still very usable.

I get senior commodity cheese which is “real” cheese, not some processed cheese flavored oil stuff.  The commodity cheese comes in a brick like this.

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In order to dehydrate my cheese, I use a hand held grater to grate it into smaller pieces.  I use the smallest holes for maximum drying surface.

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After the cheese is grated I spread it out to get maximum air surface.  I have a couple of pan covers I use as trays. The plastic sheets you see are the lining bags from boxes of cereal.  I love those things.  They are a kind of substitute for parchment paper as long as no heat is applied.

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Anyway, the trays fit nicely in my fridge.  This type of cheese should be kept refrigerated during the drying process.  It will stay in my fridge for a few days until it has mostly dried out.  I keep a fork on the trays.  Every time I open the fridge, or anytime during the day when I think about it, I’ll go stir the cheese around.  This exposes more surfaces to the air and helps dry it out evenly.

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In a few days, when the cheese has dried enough it won’t stick together anymore, I transfer it to a bowl that takes up less room in the fridge.  My fridge is small and space is precious.  I continue to stir whenever I think about it.

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When the cheese has become somewhat dry, I can leave it on the counter for a few more days of drying.  The whole process of dehydrating a whole brick of cheese takes a month or longer.

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At some point I know the cheese is as dry as it’s going to get.  I test the cheese by “feel” with my hand.  If it feels very oily, it’s not dry enough.  If there is almost no oil feel at all, or a very minimum, then it’s ready to store away.  But remember, I was on a mission to create dinner in a box meals so I decided to see what would happen if I ground the cheese into a powder.  I got out my kitchen aid food grinder.

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That thing was very expensive (and took a long time to save for it) so I used caution.  I ran just a small amount through on a course grind first.  Yup, it worked.  So I put the cheese through again with a finer setting.

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I put the cheese through a couple more times with even finer settings.  I ended up with something about the size of fine cornmeal.  I tried going even smaller but it started to bind up the machine so I stopped.

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I’m very happy with the way it turned out.  I put it into a jar for storage.  I’ll do some experimenting for using it and write another post.

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Clean up was just slightly messy. I was worried the oil from the cheese may have caused a problem but it didn’t.  I brushed the remaining cheese from the grinder with a brush and made sure there was no oil residue left behind.

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Now do you see why the people I saw are doing it all wrong?  If you are using a heat source then you are merely cooking the cheese and not actually dehydrating it.

I had mentioned earlier in this post that Grandma Mama never intentionally made dehydrated cheese; but, she would never throw away any  pieces that had dried out either.  Any cheese parts that had dried out were cut off and saved.  Later she would add the bits and pieces to a pot of soup.  Sometime she made a cheese sauce from the dried bits too.  Grandma Mama wasted nothing.

I’ll explain about re-hydrating and using the cheese in another post.

5 comments on “Dehydrating cheese

  1. Chrissy
    May 27, 2015

    You have confirmed what I suspected. I recently bought a dehydrator and wanted to do cheese, but I ended up with a melted mess even though I used a low temp. The heat was low enough so that no oils came out. So I decided to let it go until completely dry and cut it into squares as a substitute for cheese crackers and it works great for that when you mess up. But I had 3 more pounds of grated cheese to dehydrate. Luckily I have discovered that my dehydrator is capable of dehydrating with air only. Thank you for your post.

    • Na Na
      May 30, 2015

      I’m glad I could help. My Excalibur does the air only thing too but I’m a tightwad. I let the cheese air dry without using the electricity. It takes longer but its free. With the price of cheese and other dairy products going ever higher its important to use everything we can to preserve for future use.

  2. Sarca
    May 14, 2014

    Oh, and wow, you have a teeny bar fridge? I’m sure that cuts down on electricity.

    • Na Na
      May 15, 2014

      It sure does. When my 50 year old side by side fridge quit working I decided to replace it with that really small one. I figured if people in other countries could get by with just a tiny fridge so could I. Of course I still have a freezer for food storage.

  3. Sarca
    May 14, 2014

    Wow, interesting! I would have never thought to use dried out cheese like that. Thanks for the insight!

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