Cheese For Your Pantry
Powdered cheese is available through mail order sources. I don’t like it. I’ve tried again and again to make peace with it, but it’s just not going to happen. So I’m left with two alternatives: Processed Cheese & Canned Cheese.
Pasteurized Processed Cheese Spread is best known as Velveeta. It keeps very well without refrigeration. When it’s 90° in the shade processed cheese spread will get soft but it won’t melt and it won’t mold. Velveeta brand cheese is very good, but store-brand versions are cheaper and usually of excellent quality. It can be purchased in 2 sizes: 1-pound bricks and 2-pound bricks. The larger size usually costs significantly less per pound. Since it stores so well after opening, this is the size I recommend. For very small families the 1-pound packages would be a reasonable choice, but if you are feeding 3 or more then the larger size is much more economical.
To keep your processed cheese spread the longest be sure to lay it on a clean surface when slicing and always cut it with a clean knife. Be sure to wash your hands before handling it too. This reduces the likelihood of mold developing through cross contamination. Wrap it in the foil it’s packaged in or plastic wrap and store it in the original box. This will help it keep it’s shape. After opening it will keep for 2 or 3 weeks without refrigeration. Any longer and it will develop mold. You can cut the mold off and the remaining cheese is still good to use. If you have refrigeration, then by all means store your cheese there. If you do not, then you can rest assured that processed cheese will keep just fine for a few weeks without it.
Some recipes call for shredded cheese. Processed Cheese is difficult to shred so don’t even try. Instead cut off a hunk and tear it into bits with your fingers or smash it in a bowl with a fork until it’s in bits. You may dust the cheese with a teaspoon of flour or cornstarch while smashing to keep the bits somewhat dry and separate. Don’t expect shreds because you won’t get them. These bits will work anywhere you need shredded cheese like casseroles, scrambled eggs or tacos.
Slicing processed cheese is easy. A sharp knife can give you lovely thin slices with a little practice. To keep the cheese from sticking to the knife it may be sprayed with non-stick spray or dipped in clean water between slices. This makes the cheese slide right off the knife and helps your slices retain their shape. Wire bladed cheese slicers are custom made for slicing processed cheese. If you have one then you’ll find it an easy task to make lovely slices of cheese that even the most persnickety of children will accept with aplomb. Velveeta makes excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and is specially designed to be heated in casseroles or sauces. It even goes on pizza in a pinch.
Other types of processed cheese spread sometimes be found. I’ve seen big blocks of white processed cheese called queso blanco and also a jalapeno version which is white cheese with jalapeno peppers added for kick. Sometimes you can find sharp cheddar flavor, which is, I believe, richer in flavor than conventional processed cheese. Even if you can’t find any other versions, plain processed cheese is pretty tasty and kids usually love it. Store-brand versions are very affordable, costing quite a bit less than refrigerated cheese.
If you have more money to spend, then small 5-ounce jars of processed cheese spread are another option. English Cheddar, Pimiento Cheese, Pineapple Spread and others are available. They keep on the pantry shelf until you need them and are quickly used up. Their unit price is higher than blocks of processed cheese but the small size makes them convenient and the variety of flavors lends interest to ones diet. I don’t use them very often, because of the high cost, but they are available if you’re interested.
Canned Cheese is your next option. Grated Parmesan in the green shaker jar is the most obvious choice. We’ve all seen it in jars at our local pizza joints so we know it stores well without refrigeration, even after it’s opened. It can go on pizza, over salads, on spaghetti and when mixed with an equal amount of bread crumbs is a tasty topping for casseroles.
Nacho cheese is available in 14 or 15-ounce cans. It tastes very good and keeps a long time on the pantry shelf since it’s canned. It’s good in casseroles and as a topping for Latino dishes such as enchiladas or burritos.
The other type of canned cheese must be purchased through mail-order. If you google it, you’ll find 8-ounce cans of Kraft Cheese available from several different sources. The advantage to canned cheese over Velveeta is that it keeps indefinitely on the pantry shelf. This means it requires less care and attention to rotation compared to Velveeta, giving you one less thing to worry about. Additionally canned Cheddar may be shredded while processed cheese can only be mashed or cut into bits.
In these recipes canned Cheddar cheese can replace Velveeta in any recipe. Canned cheddar costs a bit more than store-brand processed cheese, but the quality is excellent and the keeping qualities may make it’s higher cost worthwhile.
For my family’s purposes Velveeta-type processed cheese and shaker jars of Parmesan serve us very well. I like both an orange and a white version of processed cheese because pizza looks prettiest with white cheese and mac and cheese loos prettiest with orange cheese. When you’re using stored cheese though, you can replace one flavor of processed cheese with another without much change to the recipe. Parmesan cheese is handy for specific purposes, but in my experience, is not as versatile as processed cheese.