Cheddar

What in the World Is Cheese Powder?

October 23, 2020
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: DREW AICHELE.

I don’t mean to blow up your work week, but I recently discovered that it’s possible to make anything taste like Doritos without ever touching a chip.

Some, such as Wylie Dufresne, James Beard Award–winning chef and a father of molecular gastronomy, might say I’m late to this epiphany, like when I called to ask if he’d heard of cheese powder, a dehydrated, concentrated version of the fresh stuff.

“Can you tell me someone who hasn't?” he said, broaching the topic of Kraft mac and cheese packets as evidence before I could careen into my Opening Argument (a description of an eye-opening joyride I took on nuts.com after two glasses of wine).

The cheese powder I purchased at such scale that a mid-sized cat could use it as a bed, and the pulverized, neon flavorings of Kraft are close cousins: variations on a theme, Dufresne explained. The latter may have been laden with more unpronounceable additives and dyes historically, but it is nonetheless a form of powdered cheese.

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Top Comment:
“I've used it in mac and cheese and lasagna, and surprisingly it rehydrates and is even wonderfully melty and stretchy. I used to get it by the tub for backapcking.”
— Tenderlion
Comment

In fact, the first dairy products to be spray-dried—a method of dehydrating a liquid, like melted cheese, by mixing it with a substrate and spraying it through a nozzle such that when the mist dries, the flavor remains on the substrate—at an industrial scale were dehydrated just after Kraft created processed cheese in the early 20th century, The New Yorker reports. Today, there are a couple of ways to make cheese powder, including spray-drying as well as freeze-drying, or simply dehydrating as if to make “moon cheese” or “popped cheese,” then blending the resultant lumps.

“For a while, cheese powder got a bad rap because it had more whey and oil and anti-caking agents than actual cheese,” Dufresne told me. Today, though? “You can get pretty good versions of cheese powder.”

Finger-licking cheddar popcorn? Don't mind if we do. Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: DREW AICHELE.

And with it, one can flavor crackers without fretting about the introduction of moisture, add vim and nuance to breadings, or create a shelf-stable signature blend of mac and cheese sauce to be mixed with warm milk, butter, and elbow noodles at a moment’s notice. For the home cook, cheese powder’s conveniences are multifaceted: concentrated flavor, a lack of texture-threatening moisture, and a pantry-life well beyond that of fresh cheese (one year compared to, in some cases, mere weeks).

“Cheese is expensive. Very expensive. And perishable. And delicate. Every time you cut into an intact cheese, its time on this earth becomes limited. Every time you pull one out of the special refrigerated cave it lives in, you are killing it slowly,” wrote Anthony Bourdain in Medium Raw. If, as he wrote, “you have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese” as a restauranteur, then cheese powder—with its accessible price point and interminable shelf-life—presents an opportunity for low-stakes friendship.

Dufresne’s team recently created a homemade version of cheese puffs with black rice they pureed, piped, and puffed, then dusted in a medley of cheese powders. Chef Ed Szymanski of New York City’s Dame recalls using cheese powder to make nachos in quantity, for family meal. L.A.-based food stylist Max Rappaport points out powder’s food-for-the-’gram gifts, too: “Don’t underestimate the difficulty of cooking with regular cheese. When making cacio e pepe, Parmesan and pecorino love to separate, leaving stringy cheesy protein strands and fat floating around your pasta instead of a glistening cheese sauce. On set, if I need a velvety smooth cheese sauce, I may turn to cheese powder.”

The nuts.com varietal I acquired in white cheddar for $10.99, turns out to be second in popularity to their Trump-toned one, which outsells the paler product 20 to one, according to Partnerships Specialist Jackie Tylko. A shocking and exciting tidbit from the product page reveals that it takes three pounds of fresh cheese (cheddar and blue) to make a two-pound batch of powder. King Arthur Flour’s Vermont Cheese Powder, though smaller in stature, packs just as much of a punch for $10.95.

Which, for the superpower to make anything taste like a Dorito in the blink of an eye, seems like a steal.


How to Use It, If You Dare

  • Sprinkle it relentlessly over buttered popcorn
  • Add a spoonful to the seasoned flour mixture for breaded cutlets, or battered and fried chicken
  • Make DIY “boxed” mac and cheese by whisking a few tablespoons of one or more powders (make a house mix!) into warming milk on the stove, plus butter
  • Give a sad cauliflower pizza crust some flavor lift-off—and added moisture-control—by adding a few tablespoons of powdered cheese to the dough
  • Sift over cracker dough before baking, or replace a few tablespoons of flour in your cracker dough recipe with powdered cheese for an even cheesier flavor (!!!)
  • Whisk a few big pinches of it into eggs before soft-scrambling them in browned butter
  • Toss freshly made French fries (or fake frites) in a mixture of cheese powder and garlic powder
  • Dust freshly fried or baked potato chips with it
  • Whisk it into labne with some caramelized shallots for a dip
  • Knead some into Parkerhouse roll dough after the first proof
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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

17 Comments

adambravo November 8, 2020
I’m assuming this is *not* vegan? Not for me, for the record... ;)
 
Tenderlion October 28, 2020
Just gotta say: freeze-dried shredded cheese is surprisingly good too. I've used it in mac and cheese and lasagna, and surprisingly it rehydrates and is even wonderfully melty and stretchy. I used to get it by the tub for backapcking.
 
W J. October 26, 2020
Cheese powder can be a useful addition to the pantry.

However, one should read labels and consider carefully. Most of the cheese powders are both quite high in calories and contain trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. It is the "partially hydrogenated" that signals the presence of the trans fat. The problem is that no where is the amount of trans fat specified, just that it is there in some unknown level.

Because of a loophole in labeling requirements in the U.S., products with less than 0.6 g/serving can claim 0 trans fat. Thus a product can be labeled 0 trans fat with a level of 0.5 g/serving. Yet 2 servings of a product with 0.5 g/serving may lead someone to unknowingly consume 1.0 g of trans fat.

For a couple of white cheddar powders, which I looked at the ingredients are approximately as follows:
Cheddar Cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), (whey, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, corn syrup, salt), Blue Cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), (disodium phosphate, nonfat milk, citric acid), Creamer (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, mono & diglycerides, dipotassium phosphate, sodium silico aluminate), Whey, Natural Flavor, Salt, Dextrose, Lactic Acid, Lactic Yeast Extract, Citric Acid. Packaged in the same facility as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and milk products.

The stated serving size is 20 g (~0.7 oz), so the trans fat level must be 0.5 g or less.

I will leave it to you to decide, if this is acceptable to you or not.
 
karenzoller October 25, 2020
Can you help with a cacio e pepe recipe using cheese powder?
 
Am9 October 25, 2020
As far as political speak goes, the term she used is really more about pop culture than politics. The color because of the ubiquitous nature of the figure that we have to unfortunately see constantly in the media.
 
Joanne M. October 26, 2020
This is not a political forum
 
LeeO October 26, 2020
That's what we are trying to point out!
The writer wasn't being POLITICAL whatsoever. It's just an ever-so-slightly-exaggerated comparison reference to a color sported on the head of a public figure. Wouldn't matter who he was or what he represented...it's an hysterical comparison of similar colors not normally found in nature!
 
Am9 October 26, 2020
Pop culture... not politics
 
Jacqueline G. October 24, 2020
Emeril's at Universal Citywalk used to fry Calamari & sprinkle the Nacho cheese powder on it.
Served with a spicy red marinara under it, it was divine. It was my go to dining at the bar, small plate.
 
i90chick October 25, 2020
Sounds yummy! I may have to carry a small envelope of it with me to my next fried calamari outing! LOL
 
Tina M. October 24, 2020
Trump toned? Ridiculous to even bring politics to this and I was enjoying the article
 
LeeO October 24, 2020
@Tina M.
Oh, for heaven's sake...lighten up, girl! What is 'political' about referencing the color of one item to the near exact color of another? If you are sooo sensitive about such tiny infractions of propriety, answer me this: what have YOU done today to help the homeless or the hungry or the multitudes of those less fortunate ones? Try directing your attention toward actual issues and maybe your delicate constitution won't faint at the sight of an hysterical joke next time. Sheesh!

HYSTERICAL! I won't ever again be able to look at Macaroni and cheese without giggling. Brava!
 
Angela P. October 25, 2020
I’m with you, Tina. Browsing recipes and Food52 articles while enjoying my morning coffee is usually relaxing. Must everything be political?
 
Karen October 25, 2020
Well, is he orange or not? He's orange. By choice. We can all see it. Writers are free to reference this fact.
 
Sam1148 October 25, 2020
He's a public figure. It's like saying "Broil the Chicken to a medium George Hamilton" in the 1980's ....George Hamilton was a public figure known for his obsession with tanning. No politics involved there...same with someone today known for their self imposed skin tint.
 
epiphany October 27, 2020
What a great joke, really cracked me up, too. Crack, like the substance the son of a certain public figure loves to smoke. Ha ha! What a belly laugh! Best I've had all day! Now I'm off to the local soup kitchen to do my bit for humanity - hoo, hoo so wonderful and virtuous am I!
 
LeeO October 28, 2020
Yeeeeeah...you have missed the point completely and are now trying to inject unfounded rumor into a discussion about whether or not relating a certain color to a certain public figure constitutes being termed 'political'.
Major fail on all accounts.