Cheese can be one of the hardest things to give up for someone who wants to transition to a plant-based vegan diet. I have often heard from friends, “I’ve got my family weaned from milk but we just can’t give up the cheese”. Giving up cow’s milk is a great start but did you know that it takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese! Dairy cheese is just highly concentrated milk. Milk is for baby cows, not people. So grow up and get weaned!
I think one of the reasons so many people find it easy to give up cow’s milk is because it is easy to find non-dairy milk alternatives. There are great options out there. You can find almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and oat milk at almost any grocery store these days. Up until recently it has been very hard to find great tasting non-dairy cheeses. The tide is turning and there are more and more non-dairy cheeses hitting the market.
So far, my favorite non-dairy cheeses are the ones made by vegan chef and cookbook author, Miyoko Schinner. These are the real deal. Until now you could not buy her cheeses. You just had to learn how to make them yourself. The cheeses were so amazing that I did learn how to make them, but, to tell you the truth, I would much prefer to buy them. While it is fun to know how to make your own vegan cheese, it is also a process. The stuff usually takes days to make and sometimes weeks if you want to age it properly.
I remember the first time I tasted Miyoko’s cheeses at a vegan pot luck. I could not believe how good they were. She was promoting her book Artisan Vegan Cheese. I remember asking her at the end of her talk how I could buy her cheeses. Apparently lots of people asked her that same question (like everybody who tried the cheese). At the time, Miyoko was not set up to sell the cheese and wasn’t sure she wanted to take on that big of a project. Lucky for us she responded to the thousands of fans pleading for her to make her cheeses available to the public. You can find out more on her website http://www.miyokoskitchen.com. The good news is Miyoko’s cheese will hit the market this Summer (2014).
Last summer I was fortunate enough to take a week long vegan cooking class from Miyoko. It was the week before my 40th birthday and my husband gave it to me as a birthday present. Aside from gaining about 5 pounds in one week, it was a great experience. We made and ate some of the most incredible food I have ever had.
I also learned a bit about making artisan cheese (vegan of course). The cheeses we made were actually aged and cultured with a probiotic. Most of the cheeses are cultured with rejuvelac (fermented beverage with friendly bacteria) or nondairy yogurt.
The recipe that I am going to share with you today is from Miyoko’s book Artisan Vegan Cheese. It is one of the simpler recipes that you can easily expand on. It is the basic cashew cheese that serves as the foundation for many of the other cheeses in the book. There are only three ingredients: Cashew nuts, rejuvelac and a pinch of salt.
- 2 cups raw cashew nuts (soaked in water for 3 to 8 hours)
- 1/2 cup rejuvelac
- pinch of salt
Drain the soaked cashew nuts and put them in your blender. A high speed blender works best to get the creamy consistency and you can get away with soaking the cashews for just a couple of hours. If you do not have a high speed blender you really need to soak them for at least 8 hours. Then add the rejuvelac and a pinch of salt. Process until smooth and creamy. You will need to stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the blender. I use my vitamix tamper the entire time I am blending. Once you have a creamy smooth consistency transfer the mixture to a glass bowl or container. Note, at this point, if my mixture got hot in the blending process I add about a tablespoon more of rejuvelac just in case the probiotic was damaged.
Let the mixture rest at room temperature for 8 to 36 hours depending on how sharp a flavor you want. If it is a warm day then your cheese will culture faster. The cheese will thicken as it cultures. You will be able to tell that the culturing is working when your cheese gets puffy and airy. Notice the air bubbles that have formed in the picture below. Once your cheese has cultured and is just the right sharpness you can cover and store in your refrigerator for about two weeks. At this point you can also add herbs if you want to make an herbed cream cheese. The options are endless. I often make lemon, garlic and chive cream cheese or sun dried tomato and basil cream cheese. Once you put the cheese in the refrigerator it will thicken and firm up even more. You can also store in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Again, this is the most basic and least complex of the cheese recipes in the Artisan Vegan Cheese book. When you get the hang of this one you can graduate to Brie, Cheddar, air-dried cheeses, meltable cheeses and of course, cheese cake. I can’t give away all the recipes so I encourage you to buy Miyoko’s book if you want to experiment in making your own vegan cheese.
Giving up cheese made from cow’s milk is only going to get easier. As more vegan cheese becomes available in grocery stores it will be easier to choose the non-dairy option. I can already envision a time in the near future when our children will ask, “Did you really only have cow cheese when you were a kid?”