The Simple Cheese Trick Restaurants Don’t Want You to Know

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 28 2014 8:16 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Cheese

cheese_mg_9731_edit_590
A cheddar crisp bedecking lentil soup.

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate

If we stipulate that neither the gelatinous neon orange stuff nor the pre-shredded stuff sold in plastic bags qualifies as cheese, I can say confidently that I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like. Cow, goat, sheep: Great. Firm, blue, ripened, fresh: All of the above. Between crackers, with apple slices, in sandwiches, on pizza: Yes.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

So, really, this blog post is not meant to rebuke you for your cheese-eating habits: Whatever they are, I approve. Instead, this blog post is meant to draw your attention to an intriguing and unusual technique that will enrich your cheese life and, like a deep knowledge of Radiohead's oeuvre, make you look way more sophisticated than you actually are.

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I’m talking about turning hard, grate-able cheese, like Parmesan, cheddar, or Manchego, into cheese crisps. You’ve probably been to a restaurant where your salad or appetizer came adorned with a thin, crispy, delicate disc of cheese—like a Florentine cookie, only savory. You might not know that making such discs at home is literally as simple as sprinkling grated cheese on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven for 10 minutes.

Granted, you have to pay attention to a couple of details to get your homemade cheese crisps to turn out well: For one, you need to line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Parchment paper is useful almost any time you’re baking—it does a way better job of preventing cookies, cakes, and breads from sticking to the pan than a layer of oil does. But it’s not merely useful here; it’s crucial. If you don’t first line your cookie sheet with parchment, your cheese will harden semi-permanently onto it and require vigorous scraping to get off.

Second, you have to construct your rounds of cheese carefully. Make them very flat circles, not mounded heaps. They will spread out as they bake, but they need to be wispy to begin with, or else they’ll remain gooey in the middle and burn around the edges. Aim for a single layer of shreds with some gaps between the morsels of cheese.

Baking time will depend on how dry the cheese is—Parmesan will harden faster than cheddar because it has less moisture in it to begin with. The crisps are done when they’ve deepened to a uniform golden brown and have a lacy texture.

Once they’ve cooled, the world is your oyster: If you’re having a dinner party, use them as a garnish on soups or salads to elicit oohs and aahs from your guests. Layer them in hamburgers or other sandwiches for extra crunch. Or just snack on them plain: They are the chic version of Cheez-Its, and, like Cheez-Its, they are very difficult to stop eating once you’ve started.

P.S. Also, like Cheez-Its, they can come in different flavors: Mix a pinch of a dried herb or ground spice into the grated cheese to change them up.

Cheese Crisps
Yield: 8 or 9 crisps
Time: 15 minutes

½ cup grated Parmesan, cheddar, or Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)

Heat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form about 1 tablespoon of the cheese into a thin circle on the parchment paper; repeat with the remaining cheese, leaving 2 inches between circles. Bake until the cheese is golden brown and lacy, 5 to 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet, then serve.

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