If you don’t fall into one of the title groups, you may be getting ready to click away or throw stuff at me. Stop! Don’t do it. You can’t hit me from there anyway and you’ll be glad you stayed. I didn’t even put quotes around the word “cheese” in the title. That’s because this stuff is good and it is fermented! When I decided to do this basic cheese series a few months back, I went in search of an option that would work for my dairy-free readers of all stripes. I’ll admit that I wasn’t optimistic, but I lucked out big time when I found the book Artisan Vegan Cheese.
I felt that author Miyoko Schinner was a bit of a kindred spirit because like me she entertains vegans and enjoys serving up a good cheeseboard for her dear friends. Like Schinner, I’ve tasted other vegan “dairy” that falls totally flat. Lemon juice and citric acid do not rise to the level of cheese acidified by the fermentation process, especially when you’re not acidifying dairy. They don’t transform. I like to experiment in my kitchen, and I’ve played with culturing different nut purées and nuts with water kefir and the ginger bug. Both work, but both impart disjointed flavors that, to me, kind of ruin the experience. Schinner’s brilliant idea, to use rejuvelac, is definitely one of the keys to her superior end product.
Cheese-making is a more time-consuming and finicky process than most of the topics I’ve written about here. It requires lots of experimentation, failure and extras (rennet, lipase, cheese salt, cheese cloth, cheese molds, cultures, etc). By that standard this cheese is very simple, but it is still a tad more labor-intensive than many of the other how-tos I have posted to date. So look at this as a first step and as a great offering for any vegan or dairy-free friends who might be jonesin’ for that certain, decadent something that makes dairy cheeses so appealing to most. Schinner has plenty of options for longer aging, achieving cheeses that melt and all of the qualities that we look for in dairy cheese. I haven’t gotten there yet, but for the love of my vegan friends, I will. Is this exactly dairy cheese? No. But is has all the complexity and tempting flavor that a ferment should and it is just really, really good. My guess is that the omnivores will de devouring this at our next fête without stopping to ask whether or not it’s dairy.
Cashew “Chèvre” Adapted from Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner
Yield about 1 lb. Takes a few days to soak and ferment.
I ended up with about a 1/2 pound of chèvre, because we ate the unmolded, basic cheese before I could chevrify it. After tasting the final product, I kind of regretted that. A half pound is a great yield, but you could also easily double this if you have a particularly hungry vegan crowd coming your way. I’d be surprised if a pound or two or three went to waste in your house.
- Cheese mold (optional)
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked in 6 cups of filtered water overnight (up to 8 hours)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup millet rejuvelac, or rejuvelac made with the grain of your choice (store-bought is fine, but GFers, beware. It is often made with wheat in stores)
- 1/2 t salt, plus a pinch
- 1.5 T nutritional yeast
- Drain water from your cashews. You can soak them for fewer than 8 hours, if you like (Schinner recommends 3-8)
- Put your cashews and a small pinch of salt (more if you like) in your food processor. Add a 1/4 c of rejuvelac and let it process for a solid two minutes. Check consistency. If it’s smooth and creamy, you’re good to go. If it’s not, add a bit more rejuvelac and blend again. If you have a Vitamix or other crazy, jet-engined blender, you can process for less time and use only a quarter cup of rejuvelac, total. I don’t have one and mine was great, but I did have to use the full half cup of rejuvelac
- Once your mixture is entirely smooth and creamy (that can take several minutes of processing) scrape it into a non-reactive bowl, using a spatula. I used a pyrex bowl, but glass is great too. I would shy away from plastic since that could do some leaching, and unless you have truly stainless steel bowls, maybe go for class. Lactic acid fermentation will be happening in the bowl!
- Cover the cheese and let it sit at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, for 3 days. The top layer will get discolored and may harden. That’s okay. I didn’t have any surface mold, but if you get some, just skim it. (This is cheese remember? Mold happens. Mold gets eaten. Mold is delicious.)
- After 3 days, your cheese will have solidified a bit more. You can enjoy it as a tangy snack as is or move on to bliss.
- Mix in your 1/2 t of salt and nutritional yeast by hand
- (optional) Line a cheese mold with cheese cloth (or plastic wrap, if you prefer) and pack your cheese into it. You can also just roll it into a chèvre log or mold it in a glass. You’re not draining liquid here, so the sky’s the limit for shaping it.
- Cover tightly and let it sit in your fridge for at least 6 hours to harden and take shape a bit.
- Unmold and serve! I rolled mine in herbs and I think it looked lovely.
I bought Artisan Vegan Cheese and I liked it so much it occurred to me to ask the publisher if they would offer a copy to my readers. They very kindly agreed. So here’s how to get a free copy:
- Contest is open to residents of the continental United States.
- To enter, leave a comment telling me why you’d like to try making vegan cheese, or how it went if you already have (yes, it’s cool to say, “I’m vegan!” or, “I’m paleo!”)
- Contest ends at 11:59pm EST on Thursday, June 20, 2013.
- One comment per person, please. Additional entries can be made, for a maximum of three per person, by tweeting a link to this post with the hashtag #phickleferments, or by pinning it and posting a link to the pin in a separate comment before the contest ends. Tweets entries will be added as numbers to the random.org generator for consideration.
This post is part of a series on cheese. We’ll do some how-tos for stuff you can reasonably make at home and visit some local spots around Philly for great cheese. I’ll also share a few personal memories about cheese. Of all the ferments I love, cheese is definitely the one to which I’m most viscerally connected. I hope you enjoy my flights of sensory memory.
EDIT: A previous version of this post indicated that Ms. Schinner is not vegan. It appears that was incorrect. I sincerely apologize to the author for my error! The correction has been made. Thanks to Mylène for pointing out my error.