I’ve probably uttered the words, “I can’t live without cheese! It’s so good!” in my life. It’s understandable- cheese is delicious. Pizza, although it’s total junk food, tastes amazing and is a $40 billion industry in the US. The realities of cruelty in the dairy industry, however, tell a different story from the cows’ perspective (I won’t go into too much detail here but you can read about it here if you want). A deviled egg was the last non-vegan item I ate willingly, but quesadillas and pizza were such cheap, easy, and tasty staples of my diet that I wondered if I could ever do without them. Vegan cheese options aren’t really terrific, either. Daiya brand cheese-style shreds are ok, but they’re very oily and expensive and don’t contain much nutrition. Blocks of soy cheese taste pretty bland and I’m trying to avoid soy when possible. There is even a variety of almond cheese at my co-op that lists whey powder as one of its ingredients, so that’s a no-go, too (why would they do that?).
In the late summer of this year I picked up the ‘cheese’ issue of Veg News and worked through a bunch of the recipes in the feature article. Most of the cheeses had a cashew base. I followed the recipes exactly but my final product never looked as firm or as delicious as the ones in the picture, until I said “fuck it” to recipe-based cashew cheesemaking and decided to reinvent these recipes myself.
What follows is in this post is not a simple, step-by step recipe for a specific kind of cashew cheese. Instead, I’ll be delivering the key points of the Veg News article through detailed pictures and branching points for softer/harder, milder/tangier cheeses. I’ll even provide you with an estimate of exactly how much this stuff will cost as well. I rarely cook with a recipe anyway, and I feel like I enjoy experimenting with cashew cheese enough to make it a little different each time, and it always comes out super-tasty. However, it still doesn’t melt like regular cruelty-cheese, but you can make it softer and more liquidy according to your preference.
Before we even get to the ingredients, you will need:
- A food processor or high-powered blender (I use a vitamix)
- Pasta strainer
- Medium-large mixing bowl
- Medium/large size Tupperware/plastic containers to store the cheese once you’re finished
- Measuring cups (1 cup size is most important)
- Plastic Wrap / waxed paper / parchment paper
- A stereo system capable of playing “Yank Crime” by Drive Like Jehu
Here are the typical ingredients from which I draw:
- Cashews (unsalted, unroasted pieces)
- Tapioca starch
- Nutritional yeast
- Unflavored, unsweetened soy yogurt
- Agar (Seaweed gelatin – available at Asian groceries on the cheap)
One cool thing about making your own cheese this way is the savings you get when you buy in bulk. Cashews are a fairly expensive nut if you’re buying them out of a Planters can, but it’s much more economical to buy multiple pounds from a co-op where you have a member discount or online through a wholesaler (if you’re feeling ambitious). Because I am often teetering on the edge of brokedom (and maybe you are, too), economy matters a great deal. This recipe should be able to fit into your food budget, provided you already have access to a food processor.
Anyway, onto some visual cues. What does this recipe look like, anyway?
2 cups of cashews weighs approximately 0.6 lbs @ $8.49/lb = $5.09
1 cup of tapioca starch weighs approximately 0.28 lbs @ $2.39/lb = $0.67
1 cup of nutritional yeast weighs approximately 0.13 lbs @ $9.19/lb = $1.19
Total cost of ingredients: $6.96, yields over 1 pound of cashew cheese.
Above I’ve pictured the ingredients for a soft, yellow ‘paneer-type cheese’ without any agar to thicken it. This kind of cheese can be sliced to put on a sandwich, sliced and served with tomatoes, avocado and herb for a caprese salad or stirred into hot, cooked pasta for a very convincing mac n’ cheese.
The first step in cashew cheesemaking recipes is to soak the 2 cups of cashew in a medium bowl filled with warm water for 3 hours:
The amount of water you use to soak the cashews doesn’t have to be measured, but you should use enough water to completely cover the cashew plus about a half an inch. Alternatively, if you’d like a slightly more viscous and less creamy cashew cheese (it’s also easier to scrape out of your blender/food processor), you can boil the cashews in a small pot on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour:
Afterwards, drain the cashews of any water used to soak them:
Load them into your blender or food processor and add a teaspoon of salt (or more, if you want). Using a tamper if necessary, grind them until you get a smooth paste.
If you’d like, you can add 1 cup of unsweetened, unflavored soy yogurt (24 oz = $3.49) to make the product even softer, creamier and have a slightly more sour taste:
Scrape the cream out of the blender and into a medium-sized bowl with a knife or spatula. FEED ON THE EXCESS. You can cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a non-airtight lid and leave it at room temperature for 8-48 hours somewhere safe in your house to let it develop flavor. You don’t have to do this, though. The longer you leave it out at room temperature, the more sour and developed the taste will be, and I’d advise you to taste a little bit at certain intervals to check on the flavor. I also wouldn’t recommend leaving it out like this for more than two days. You might forget about it, and it could spoil, especially if you’re using soy yogurt and if it’s hot at your place.
If you want to make a simple cream cheese, congratulations! You’re finished and don’t have to do anything else. If you want to flavor your cream cheese with herbs like chives and rosemary, just mix them in and transfer the mixture to a sealable container. It should keep its freshness for two to four weeks. One of my favorite things to add to cashew cream made this way is roasted red peppers and kalamata olives. You can dice those ingredients and just stir them in to make it chunky, or load everything back into your food processor to grind it all up smoothly. Another tasty option is to add some crumbled nori leaves and a few drops of liquid smoke to make ‘faux lox.’
If you want to make a more solid cheese, then don’t use soy yogurt. Instead, when you reach this step (after letting it develop flavor at room temperature, if desired), stir in a cup of nutritional yeast and a cup of tapioca starch to your cashew blob and mix well. You may certainly opt to use less nutritional yeast or tapioca starch if you’d like. Sometimes, I add one or two teaspoons of turmeric to give it a brighter yellow color:
Mix it up for several minutes until it becomes doughy and smooth in color:
Lay a 18-inch long sheet of plastic wrap or paper material of your choice on a counter or cutting board, then spoon the cashew mixture onto it.
Using the plastic wrap, shape the cashew cheese mixture into a log with your hands. Try a piece. It will be fucking delicious. You can also sprinkle a few tablespoons of mixed herbs and seasonings on the plastic wrap so that when you roll it, it encrusts the cashew cheese loaf with delightful, delightful flavors. Put it into an airtight container and let it chill in the fridge, as it will become slightly harder with decreasing temperature.
If you have access to agar (agar-agar, whatever), you can make an even thicker, heftier cheese by boiling a cup of water and adding about 10 grams, or about 1/6 to 1/4 the package of agar, as obtained from a local Asian market, to the boiling water. Mix it up a little to evenly melt it, then stir it into the mixture with the nutritional yeast and tapioca. It will harden when you cool it.
My co-op also sells agar in flake form, but…
I’m currently experimenting with cashew cheeses with massive amounts of agar-agar in hopes of creating a “deli-slice-able” cashew cheese. No luck so far, though. In the meantime, here’s a couple pictures of some food I prepared with these ‘recipes:’
Suggestions and recipes of your own are welcomed in the comments.