Some things are a mystery to me:
- Donald Trump’s popularity
- The Higgs boson and other subatomic particles
- Donald Trump’s hair
But there are other things too, and that includes vegan “cheese.” What is it? What could it be, other than something unnatural? Why do we even need it, since we kicked our cheese habit years ago (or did we)?
I think, probably, the hardest thing about changing to a vegan diet, was giving up cheese. The most common thing I hear from other people is that they could never be vegan, because they could never give up cheese. Fair enough, although I would encourage you not to sell yourself short like that, you wonderful thing! We all aren’t perfect, but we’re pretty good, you and me both!
(I don’t ever have “real” cheese at my house anymore, but I am known to dive into a cheese platter at a friend’s house, even if I’ve been presented with a wonderful hummus-with-crackers alternative. I’m a cheater, and I’m not proud of it.)
Having said that, I miss cheese less and less. It takes a while, and if you’re considering veganism, you can just go ahead and give yourself a break by understanding a change in palate takes time. A change in habits takes time too.
My advice: Eeeeeeevery now and then, it’s OK to indulge your cheese cravings and know that there are vegan cheese options. They aren’t exactly like dairy cheese. No. They aren’t. But they’re good, and it’s fun to try them, because you can return to your favorite old habits like grilled cheese, pizza and…well, just cheese and crackers! Without the saturated fat and other concerning ingredients found in dairy cheese.
I know I can buy vegan “cheese” in the store. If you look at the ingredients, though, you’ll find a lot of oil-based products. I don’t like the idea of throwing a lot of oil on my food. You can also find nut-milk-based cheeses in the store too, but look at the ingredients, you’ll be surprised to find casein (a milk protein) or other undesirable ingredients. Unless the product is labelled “vegan,” be inquisitive! Look at those ingredients.
I wanted to discover how to make vegan cheese using a nut-milk base, not an oil base. There are so many different ways to make vegan cheese. I decided to begin with a recipe from Vegan Richa, one of my new favorite blogs for plant-based recipes. I did the simplest version, and I began with a cashew-milk base. I made my own cashew milk from two ingredients, cashews and water. That’s it!
- 9 oz. tub raw cashews
- Soaking water (enough to cover cashews)
- 2 cups filtered water
- Soak the raw cashews in water overnight or for at least 4 hours.
- Drain the water and rinse the soaked cashews.
- Place cashews in a high-speed blender with 2 cups of filtered water.
- Blend on high speed for a good minute or two.
- Pour nut/water mixture through a nut-milk bag into a pitcher. Squeeze until no more milk comes out of the nut-milk bag. (Save the "nut meats" for another use, such as in muffins or oatmeal or smoothies.)
For the cashew-cheese recipe, you’ll need:
So, yes, there’s a little olive oil in the recipe. But it’s not the MAIN ingredient as it is in some mass-produced vegan cheeses. Cashew milk is the main ingredient here. Really, cashew milk and thickening starches.
Incidentally, agar agar is a vegetarian gelatin substitute produced from seaweed vegetation. It is sold in health food stores in both flake and powder varieties. I used the flakes, here, and that’s an important difference. (If you use the powder, then use 2 1/2 teaspoons powder instead of the 3 tablespoons of flakes. The cheese will also require 8 FEWER minutes of cooking in step two.)
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast vegans use for its cheese-type flavor. It is also fortified with B12 and other important vitamins and nutrients. You can read about why B12 is important for vegans here. You will NOT find nutritional yeast near the dry active, baking yeast in your grocery store. You can find it in the organic or health food section of your grocery store or in a health food store.
Next, you’ll also need:
My container holds 12 ounces total, which is plenty big enough for the approximately 8 ounces of “cheese.” Keep in mind, your cheese will take on the shape of the container.
Here’s how you make vegan cheese:
- 1½ cups cashew milk, divided
- 3 tablespoons agar agar flakes
- 1½ tablespoons arrowroot starch
- 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 1½ tablespoons chickpea flour
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Grease a glass container with extra virgin olive oil and keep ready. In a bowl, whisk ½ cup cashew milk with the starches, chickpea flour, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, spices and salt.
- In a pan, add 1 cup of cashew milk and agar agar flakes and heat on medium heat, Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 12 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and slowly add in the almond milk starch mixture from step 1 and mix.
- Increase heat to medium and continue to mix and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Take off heat and pour in a well greased glass container. Place the container in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I placed mine in the refrigerator over night. When you are ready, run a knife around the perimeter of the container and turn the cheese out onto a serving plate or cutting board. Shred or slice.
Now, where’s my wine glass?
(Oh, I’m holding it. Silly me.)