MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Fly me to the moon

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There we were, about to board a long flight, when the helpful gate attendant announced there would be no meal service aboard. I scoured the food court. Pickings were slim, and lines were longer. I had no choice. It was Starbux, or starve.
 
I nosed around the food displays and saw something unfamiliar. “Natural, Crunchy Moon Cheese,” read the package; “100% cheese.” On the back, the corporate we explained the concept.

“We Crunchify™ 100% natural cheese into the tastiest all cheese snack possible (on this planet at least). Moon Cheese™ contains all the goodness of cheese, and is a perfect on-the-go healthy snack with no refrigeration required!”

Once I got past the fact that they trademarked “Crunchify,” I was intrigued enough to try a package. They were small, irregularly shaped balls of cheese that had the texture of a crouton. How do they do that? I wondered. How can I Crunchify my own cheese at home, without violating any trademark laws?

I went to the internet. Turns out you can dry cheese naturally, but without a dehydrator, and on the road, this was a dicey proposition. I eventually found a Food TV recipe for oven drying, and decided to give it a try:

Dry Cheese in a Conventional Oven

Preheat oven to 140 degree F.

Cut cheese into uniform blocks or pieces.

Place the cheese on baking trays or racks and cover with cheesecloth.

Keep trays or racks in the oven and let cheese dry for 6 to 10 hours.

Keep oven door open.

Rotate the racks for even drying.

Make sure skin formation does not occur on the cheese surface since this can slow down the drying process.

Things fell apart at the first direction. On vacation and on the road, our condo had an electric oven that wouldn’t let me take it below 170°. So I preheated it to that, and proceeded to cube the Tillamook Cheddar I picked up at the grocery store, along with a $7 package of cheesecloth that I covered the cheese with on a non-stick baking pan.

I planned to dry the cheese overnight in the oven as directed, but the next problem was keeping the oven door open. My wife wasn’t crazy about letting me leave the oven on with the door open in our vacation condo. What a killjoy. So I simply turned off the oven and closed the door; I figured it would be warm enough in there to do some serious Crunchifying™. Then I went to sleep.

In the morning I took the pan out of the oven. It had melted all over the pan into one globby mess, and stuck to the cheesecloth. I peeled it off the best I could and took a nibble. Hmm, it seemed a little dryer than when I put it in. The best analogy I can think of—and this is a stretch—is that it tasted like cheese that melted on a pan in the oven and then cooled off a bit.

Still seeking Crunchification™, I covered it with paper towels and let it sit on the counter all day. Upon returning in the afternoon, I peeled off another little bit. At this point it was not exactly dry, but tasted like cheese that sits outside in the sun all day and gets all sweaty and sort of unappetizing. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was dry enough for me to cut the globby mess into strips, but I wouldn’t exactly call them Moon Rocks™. I then covered it again with the paper towel and gave it more time.

They are still in the pan. Every so often I take another look and try another piece. It still tastes sweaty and definitely not Crunchified™. Either this was because I didn’t follow the recipe (which is a longshot theory), or more likely, it was because the secrets of Moon Cheese™ are simply not to be revealed in this lifetime. They remain, locked up in the vaults of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, while I remain outside the gates with my wet strips of Tillamook cheddar. Well, at least the condo didn’t burn down. 
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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. 
He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

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