Vegan Cheeses 101

I love cheese! My mom used to ask me to whistle while shredding cheese as a child: that would ensure I was not eating the stuff!

I also love the process of making cheese: all the chemistry of cultures and the transformation of milk into that soft material (the curds) and then the shaping and flavouring of different cheeses. I started teaching cheese-making about a year ago as part of my “Food Sovereignty” series which includes general nutrition and food skills, how to avoid food waste, food preservation (fermentation, pickling and canning) and making things from scratch such as yogurt, different types of soft cheeses, kefir, kombucha, sourdough bread, vinegar making from scratch and the like…

So when I decided to try a vegan diet, the first step before all the research on how to stay healthy included how to substitute cheeses.

I took a formal class to see the process and also used a wonderful book by vegan chef Miyoko Schinner called “Artisan Vegan Cheese”.

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My experiments with vegan cheeses: cashew, almonds and coconut milk

What you will need:

  • A “base” that will provide what milk provides (protein mass): this can be raw (and preferably organic) cashews, almonds, nuts or canned semi-solid coconut milk (soy, almond or other types of commercial milks may not work or may produce a very small amount of cheese as they don’t have enough “fat” and contain other stuff that may intervene with the culturing process
  • A natural lactic type of bacteria that you can create from fermenting grains, kefir, vegan yogurt or a commercially acquired culture
  • A blender of food processor
  • Some distilled or filtered water (you can use tap water, filtered with a regular filter or boiled and allowed to cool down)
  • Two glass (preferably, never metal) containers with a lid
  • A sprouting lid would be helpful if you are culturing with rejuvelac
  • Butter muslin or cheese cloth

Steps (for cashew and almond based cheeses):

If you are culturing with rejuvelac, make the rejuvelac first (you’ll need between 5-10 days to accomplish the right flavour). See steps to make rejuvelac at the bottom of this post.

  1. If using cashews or almonds, soak them for 2-8 hours. You’ll need to peel off the almonds one by one, but if they are fresh and after soaking the peel will come off easily and it is a relaxing process. I you use cashews, the soaking time may be shorter but never less than two hours. Use 2 cups for the almonds or 3 cups for the cashewsDSC_0402
  2. Strain the water off and add the cashews (or peeled almonds) to a blender or food processor.DSC_0403
  3. If making almonds cheese, add approximately 1.5 cups of filtered water and once you have a “milk”, leave it to drain on a butter muslin for a few hours to obtain a paste. You can drink the milk or use for another recipes (you’ll get very little of it) DSC_0401
  4. If using cashews, you’ll need less water. Depending on how soft you want the cheese, you can add up to 1.5 cups of filtered water to the cashews when blending. If you want a harder cheese, start with the culture first and only add some water if the blender asks for it.DSC_0405
  5. In both cases, add the culture: ¼ cup of it. You can use rejuvelac (see recipe below), water kefir, coconut milk kefir, yogurt or a commercial culture for vegan cheeses
  6. Add salt: this will depend on how salty you want it, max 2-3 teaspoons of salt
  7. Mix all well and pour the mix into the glass container. Make sure it has some room to grow but not too much or it may invite unwanted bacteria (the culture will make them ferment which will produce bubbles and make the mix look like soft sourdough, so allow enough room and don’t close the lid tight, just fingertip tight
  8. Leave it overnight on the top of the kitchen counter. Room temperature of up to 20C are OK, higher temperatures will speed up the processDSC_0406
  9. Check the flavour, smell and texture after 12-24 hours for a few days until it tastes and smells as you like, usually 2-3 days
  10. Once it’s ready, there are many different things you can do: you can add fresh or dried herbs to the mix, you can shape it and dry it a bit by allowing some air circulation (this can only be done with mixes that don’t have too much water), or you can age it…you will find more ideas in Miyoko’s book

Recipe to make rejuvelac:

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  1. Start with ¼ cup of a whole grain such as rye, barley, rice or quinoa. Each grain will provide a different flavour and may result in different times for the process
  2. Put the grain (washed) into a sprouting jar (glass canning jar with a sprouting lid or a net small enough to rinse and drain the grain at least twice every day for the first 2-5 days. Some grains will sprout by the second day, some may take longer.
  3. To sprout add water to the mix enough to cover it, allow it to soak for 8-12 hours the first time and rinse/drain the grains and add new water every 4-6 hours for the following days until you see the sprouts (little “tails” on the grains)
  4. Once the grain has sprouted, add filtered and preferably distilled water until 1 or 2 inches from the rim and close the jar fingertip tight
  5. Allow the grain to ferment for 2-7 days: depending on the amount of heat and other factors from your kitchen as well as the type of grain, the fermenting will be faster or slower
  6. Smell and taste the fermented beverage every 12 hours until it shows bubbles and tastes/smells as a carbonated fermented drink
  7. Once it has reached the desired state, strain out the grains (you can still compost them or use them in recipes that may require sprouts) and keep the mix in the fridge for up to 30 days. This mix is not only your culture starter but can also be drank as you do with kombucha or any other fermented everage…

Enjoy!

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