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What is Cheese Powder?
Cheddar cheese powder is a common and recurring item seen on the ingredient lists of cheese recipes. What exactly is it, what does it contain, and is it a healthy or at least harmless additive to cultured foods?
Cheese powder is essentially dehydrated cheese. It can be made a number of ways, but the most common commercial procedure is to melt fresh, whole cheese and spray it through a hot dryer, producing a thick, velvety powder that can then be added to popcorn, to breads and sauces, and, oddly enough, to other cheese recipes.
Cheese powder is most commonly made from cheddar, but can come in Swiss, sharp, and a few other varieties. It is not usually sold on supermarket shelves, but can be obtained through some online cheesemaking supply houses and spice or baking goods shops.
Cheese powder in cheese recipes is most commonly used just for flavor value. Sometimes a cheese (especially one eaten fresh) will taste either bland or kind of barnyard-y (in the case of a goat milk cheese), and the addition of cheese powder can really make your cheese more interesting and, well, cheesy.
If you are purchasing a high-quality cheese powder (not one that is specifically for sprinkling over junk foods, but rather a product that is specifically a cooking additive and an actual member of the spice shelf) then chances are the ingredient list will be short: just real cheese, whey, salt and perhaps an anti-caking additive. Sometimes the powder will even contain salt and sugar or a sugar substitute. It is helpful to peruse the ingredient list of the powder before purchasing one, because it is counterintuitive to make a healthy, cultured product, then add a powder that is full of preservatives and fake sugar into it.
If you are using cheese powder in a recipe that calls for it, add it at the point given in the recipe by sprinkling it over the surface of the milk, allowing it to rehydrate for a few minutes, then whisking it in rapidly for about a minute. If you’d like to add cheese powder to a recipe that does not call for it, try to stick to using it just in mesophilic cheeses with short cooking periods. Add the cheese powder to the milk directly after heating the milk and before adding cultures. The general ratio is about 1/2 teaspoon to 1 gallon of milk, but that is subject to adjustment based on your preferences. If you know that your cheese powder contains a high amount of salt, you can either keep the amount you add really low or add it after the cultures have been added and the ripening time is over.
If you are using cheese powder to enhance a sauce or mac and cheese, add it to the roux slowly, whisking it in thoroughly after each tiny addition. It is not fun to find clumps of cheese powder, even tiny ones, in any sauce or dish. If you are adding cheese powder to popcorn, sprinkle it into a paper sack, pour in the popcorn, fold the mouth of the sack over and shake to dust the popcorn evenly. Always add less than you think you need, and add more gradually, so as not to ruin any popcorn because the cheesy flavor is too strong.
In houses with small children or other picky eaters, it may be a compromise to make your homemade cheese a bit more of a flavor-popping item by adding just a teaspoon of powder. Overall, using cheese powder is merely a flavor enhancement practice. You will have to determine for yourself whether you think finding a good quality powder, buying it, and learning to use it is worth it.
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