The moisture content in cheese causes it to spoil, but dry cheese can be stored long term in the pantry or refrigerator because most of the moisture is removed. You can dry Parmesan cheese and grind it to a powder for topping pasta dishes, grind dry cheddar cheese for popcorn topping, or even dry shredded cheese for camping and backpacking. This works best with hard cheeses that have a low moisture content, but it's even possible to dehydrate cottage cheese, a very wet and soft cheese. The cottage cheese can be rehydrated and used just the same as fresh cheese.
Pat the cheese dry with paper towels to remove as much moisture from the exterior as possible. Cottage cheese should be drained and strained through cheesecloth to get rid of the excess water content.
Shred the cheese with a box grater or food processor. This is not necessary with cottage cheese because it already consists of small pieces, but blocks of cheese dry better in small shreds. If you prefer not to shred the cheese, you can cut a block of cheese into thin slices with a knife.
Line the trays of a food dehydrator with paper towels. This step is optional, but is especially important for wet cheese such as cottage cheese, or if the pieces are oily or small enough to fall through the holes in the trays.
Spread the cheese on the paper towels in a thin layer for grated cheese and cottage cheese curds. If you elected to slice the cheese, place them in a single layer with a small space between each piece.
Stack the trays in the food dehydrator. Set the dehydrator to its lowest heat setting or between 125 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The maximum temperature is 140 F because food cooks rather than dehydrates at this temperature.
Leave the cheese in the dehydrator for six to 10 hours or until completely dry. Hard cheeses with low moisture such as Parmesan cheese will take much less time than cottage cheese. Rotate the trays once every two hours, moving the bottom trays that are closest to the heating element to the top, and the top trays to the bottom.
Remove the dry cheese from the dehydrator and spread it on a tray to cool. Grind the cheese to powder form in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender, if desired. While not required, you can place the tray of cheese in the freezer for about 30 minutes before grinding.
- Check the dryness of the cheese every two hours when you rotate the trays. If the cheese feels nearly done, check about once every 20 to 30 minutes until done. Dry cheese should darken a shade or two from its original color and should be brittle to the touch.
- A food dehydrator is the best option for drying cheese, but you can use your oven if it can be set to a low temperature. Use the convection fan or leave the oven door open and direct a fan to circulate air inside the oven.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.
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