Fact: I am not a fan of vegan cheese. (Should I call it cheeze, like the packages always do?) I’ve heard rumors of good cheeses -mostly available in California or in cities bigger than Grand Rapids- but in the stores and pizza shops around here the available cheeses are always bland and funny textured.
So, a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Reservoir Lounge (great GR restaurant with a separate vegan menu) I was amazed at how good their house-made vegan mozzarella was. AMAZED. It tasted good. It melted. It was chewy. You know, like cheese. Since the chef made the cheese in-house, I decided to do some googling to see what recipes I could try to make at home.
What I found was Miyoko Schinner’s Easy Buffalo Mozzarella -made with soy yogurt, cashews, and some thickening agents it looks like buffalo mozzarella and it has rave reviews.
Caprese Salad with vegan buffalo mozzarella.
Credit: Miyoko Schinner
And then the real discovery happened. Miyoko Schinner has a book titled, Artisan Vegan Cheese, which is about making real, cultured, aged cheeses. REAL cheeses make with plant milks and nuts instead of dairy milk. OK, OK, some people will pick at my use of the word “real” since there is no dairy involved, but for me cheese is about the sharp, cultured flavor that bacteria and aging create. I don’t want a fake cheese (plant or dairy based) that uses artificial flavors to try to approximate the taste of cheddar. I want a real, natural cheese that has been able to develop its own flavor and I don’t really care what kind of milk it was made out of- cow, sheep, goat, soy- I’m on board with all of them.
The fact of the matter is, vegan food is amazing except when we get an inferiority complex and try to serve a food that is too close (and yet too far off) an approximation of some non-vegan thing. Winning over omnivores like me means leaving behind sad replacements and creating food that I’ll eat even if the animal-based product is available. We need to work on creating a food culture that is delicious, gourmet, artisan, etc. all on its own. So, for me that means ditching the Daiya and trying my hand at aged cheeses. (Note, I’ve never purchased Daiya except at restaurants because I really, really dislike it. Bleh.)
So, what do you need to make vegan cheese?
1) Rejuvelac -a liquid made by sprouting a grain and letting it ferment. I’m making some out of quinoa right now
2) Non-dairy yogurt (I have to make my own because I can only find flavored yogurts around here)
3) raw cashews (I’ve read that you can also sunflower seeds, but all of Schinner’s recipes use cashews)
4) coagulators – agar agar, carrageenan, xanthan gum, tapioca flour
5) various flavoring agents, salt, white wine, miso, nutritional yeast, herbs and spices
I started my rejuvelac and I won’t be able to make any cheese until it’s ready. I’ll keep you posted.
Rejuvelac step 1: soak 1 cup of quinoa in filtered water for 8-12 hours.