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How to Make Healthy, Great-Tasting Vegan Cheese

Cheese: the final frontier. Jennifer England takes us through the strange new world of vegan cheese and boldly goes where very few have gone before.




 

For many of us, “vegan cheese” may as well be an expletive.

Cheese—not meat—is, in fact, the final frontier when individuals transition to a healthier diet or shift to a plant-based diet. Many people are surprised by how much more easily they can reduce or give up meat consumption but they hold their hands up when it comes to cheese.

Why is that? Cheese is one of the most concentrated sources of casein, a protein that turns into casomorphins as it digests in our bodies. Yes, you saw morphine in there. According to a University of Illinois study, “Casomorphins are peptides produced from the breakdown of casein and possess opioid activity. The term opioid refers to morphine-like effects which include signs of sedation, tolerance, sleep induction, and depression.”

I know this is fodder for encouragement for some of you. Partay! SMH, you guys.

For many years, alternative options to dairy cheese were nothing short of…gross. Hard, non-melting, plastic-tasting, artificial ingredient-laden faux cheese occupied grocery store shelves next to the tofu. Good news is, its not that way anymore. There are actually great alternatives out there for those who miss the texture of cheese. And while I do not consume these on a daily basis, I do buy them occasionally.

Nut creams are also great substitutes—and I’ve featured many recipes that include cashew cream, which I love.

But it is still difficult to find a substitute to the other thing we love about cheese: the funk factor. You know what I’m talking about. That elusive umami taste heightened by the culturing process.

Not anymore. Some cheese brands use a fermented grain product called rejuvelac to culture their nut milk cheeses and they are delicious…and very expensive.

My friend, Jennifer England, who started making vegan cheese because her partner is vegan (even though she is not) is one of the best makers I know. Her cheeses are fantastic and we featured it as one of the first courses in my Churchview Farm Dinner last weekend. People raved. Jen is NOT vegan but I have heard her say she prefers vegan cheese at this point!

Can we make it at home? Jen says YES! “It sounds scary and complicated and there aren't a lot of resources out there. But in truth it really isn't as scary and complicated as it first seems.”

The first step is perhaps what is “scary” – making the rejuvelac, But as many sites show, it is actually easy. Here is one resource.

Here are Jen’s Top 5 Tips for making vegan cheese:

  1. There are a number of methods. If you are nervous try one of the easier ones. Not all of them need rejuvelac, you can culture with (almond or soy) yogurt or just not culture. Some of the quick cheeses that are flavored with lemon juice are quite tasty. 
     
  2. Don't be put off by how complicated it seems. It's a finicky process in that there are multiple steps all of which are multiple days and there is no good answer to "how long" because temperature affects the time each process takes and the end result is a product of how long. But at the same time it's insanely forgiving. Leave out your cheese too long? Really you just end up with a super funky cheese, which, for those of who love blue cheeses and the ilk, is delicious!
     
  3. Following on that first point. Experiment. Try different grains for your rejuvelac. Quinoa is quick and easy, and very mild tasting. Millet gives you a funkier flavor. Each grain has it's own character so don't be afraid to experiment and find your own personal sweet spot. (For beginners though I'd avoid non sprouting grains. They can be used but it's much better to try that if you already know what you are going for.) 
     
  4. Similarly, experiment with how long you let it sit out to culture (remembering that air temperature dramatically changes the amount of time the process takes). As I said, cheese that has gone past it's "good" point actually is preferable to many people. I love a good funky, smelly dairy cheese. Same with vegan cheese, let it go and get real funky. Yum!
     
  5. Don't worry about the recipes too much. With one or two exceptions, all the recipes are really "safe"--read bland. Don't be afraid to think "this cheese is bland. And keep adding ingredients until it tastes good. I have several resources I used to get started and now, while I definitely still consider them home base, I mostly am riffing of on my own tangent.

Her favorite resources?

Miyoko Schinner is the best known vegan cheese maker. You can actually order her cheese online or if you live in California, buy it off the shelf. Her book Artisan Vegan Cheese is  a lovely, very accessible introduction to vegan cheese. 

However I absolutely love The Non-Dairy Formulary: Vegan Cuisine for the Ethical Gourmet by Skye Michael Conroy. His vegan butter recipe is amazing and it is palm oil free. His “ buttermilk” isn't just soymilk with vinegar in it. So obviously this book goes way beyond cheese. As far as I'm concerned it's the non-dairy bible. And you will see that the cheese methods are the same as Miyoko and others use. Some day I will get around to trying his vegan croissant recipe. 

Below are two recipes to start your cheese making journey, one that uses rejuvelac and one that does not.

Have fun!
 

Basic Vegan Cheese
Recipe by Cultures for Health

  • 2 cups cashews
  • ½ cup rejuvelac
  • Dash sea salt
  • Dried herbs or pepper to coat

Instructions:

  • Cover cashews with water and soak overnight. Drain off water.
  • Place cashews in a food processor or high-speed blender and process with rejuvelac until a smooth paste forms. You can add a dash of sea salt.
  • Line a strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth or use a nut bag.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cloth or bag. Set in a warm place and let set for 24 hours.
  • Form the cheese into rounds or logs and coat the outside with herbs or cracked pepper.
  • Put in refrigerator to solidify.

The “cheese” will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. You can also freeze and grate for a garnish.
 

Baked Almond Feta
Recipe by Maple Spice

  • 145g ground almonds (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 60ml lemon juice (1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup water (4 fl oz)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blitz until super creamy and smooth.
  • Wrap mixture in cheese cloth and strain in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Photos on the website.
  • Preheat oven to 355 degrees.
  • Unwrap cheese and place in a lined baking sheet, smooth side up.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.

Enjoy!
 

 

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