August 12, 2011

Making Your Own Dairy Free Cheese: Vegan Cashew Nut Cheese

F is a big cheese lover. He particularly likes to eat it on bread which tops up his vegetarian protein intake. However, after much convincing aided by a minor scare, he was finally persuaded to reduce his dairy intake (for non-allergy related health reasons, based on The China Study). This created a new problem: What form of protein could he put on his bread? He tried tofu (yuck!) He also isn’t too convinced by Soya cheese so I got to thinking...

Many moons ago when we were still living in Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada, my family came across a naturally dairy free cheese which was made out of Brazil nuts (I think it was in Safeway). If I remember correctly it was my sister who found it and after reading and re-reading the ingredients list in amazement we finally dived in and it truly tasted the business!

We even developed a toasted sandwich recipe around it and thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed each bite. Unfortunately, it was quite expensive so we weren’t allowed to indulge too often and then it completely disappeared off the market. Since then my sister and I have been keen on finding more but never had any luck until we turned our attentions to the possibility of making it ourselves. It became a project that took permanent rooms on the long finger... until F’s recent protein situation. In hopes of making a tasty protein-filled dairy free spread I began my internet crawl for suitable recipes. I knew that I could find good value unroasted and unsalted cashew nuts in the ASIA Market on Drury St, Dublin 2 (1kg for €9). This united with their creamy consistency and their known vegan attributes displayed in products such as Booja Booja’s delicious ice cream, I decided to narrow my search to cashew nut cheese recipes only.

There seemed to be a big split between semi-instant recipes and bake recipes. I decided on two recipes:

Cashew Cheese One - Quite a few ingredients but semi-instant results:

Cashew Cheese Two - Less ingredients but longer soakage and some bake time:

The Results:
Cashew Cheese One (from Chocolate and Zucchini)
In general, the entire process was easier than anticipated, making cashew cheese a potential regular tasty protein hit in our diets. The first recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini had a lot of ingredients, some optional, some necessary. I used:
- Plain Cashew Nuts (not roasted or salted)
- Water

- Water with a few drops of Ume Plum Seasoning to replicate wine

- Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

- Nutritional Yeast

- Garlic

- Sea Salt

- Freshly Ground Black Pepper

At first I didn’t puree the mixture enough and it ended up feeling, looking and tasting like a cashew based hummous. Edible and somewhat tasty but not really what I was looking for. After trying Cashew Cheese #Two (the baked one) I decided to go back to this one and blend it more and add a 0.25 cup extra lemon juice. This really gave it the kick that it needed and the texture was much more appealing - laziness is never the best route - blend blend and then blend some more!

Although it did taste good both F and I voted for Cashew Cheese number Two. It's also nice to have a quick snack like cheese on toast, etc. without the added garlic breath from the raw garlic in cheese number one.

Cashew Cheese Two (from Beliefnet)
It had less ingredients but more procedures. Beliefnet’s cheese was whiter and ‘cleaner’ tasting. My attempt didn’t work out exactly as planned but it tasted so good I didn’t really mind... I’ll do better next time! I used:
- plain cashews
- sunflower oil oil
- lemon juice
- tahini
- salt

My problems arose with the draining. I couldn’t find ‘cheesecloth’ so I used muslin which has a looser weave. It was suggested to use 3 layers of cheesecloth so I went with four due to the weave. My problem was that nothing drained out... at all. I have since read some more about vegan cheese making and one site, JL goes Vegan, suggests setting something on top to ‘press’ it. Also, I like the idea of adding probiotics to the mix. Next time I will definitely try this method with Beliefnet’s recipe.

Anyway, even after baking when I opened up my little package of goodness, it was just as moist as before so I scraped it off and put it in a container to chill and store - Just because it doesn’t look right doesn’t mean that its doesn’t taste great and serve my purpose to boot! So, I have a protein rich cream cheese which is super yum on anything from toast to a spoon!

I have a lot to learn in the process but either way I definitely recommend making some yourself! It's so tasty and a fraction of the price when you think of how much ‘cheese’ you can get out of the bag of nuts.

Note: If you are in the states, or in Toronto, Canada and feeling a little DIY lazy about making dairy free cheese there is a company which sells nut based cheeses called Dr. Cow with even less ingredients that you could check out.

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