If you are trying to go vegan and you love cheese, we know how much of a challenge that can be – as former (dairy) cheese-lovers ourselves. However, don’t be jaded by the limited alternative cheese opportunities that are surprisingly good!
You can finally indulge in cheesy goodness from cheeses made from nuts and other plant-based ingredients that match your ethos.
In addition to having the best vegan cheeses to pair with your wine, you could also enjoy these options in your pasta dishes, as spreads, and basically anything else that needs a kick.
This is one of the easiest home-made cheese recipes you will find.
The Making of Vegan Cheese
Before we look at the recipe, it’s important to note that animal-based cheeses have animal rennet, which is the enzyme that enhances coagulation, while separating whey and the curds. As a result, they are not vegan.
For a cheese to be classified as vegan, it should be free of dairy and rennet.
So, instead of dairy, you need to find plant-based substitutes such as nuts, nutritional yeasts, vegetable oils, tofu, or soy proteins to get the closest texture and flavor of real dairy cheese.
Depending on how you mix and make the cheese, the cheese you make could be soft and easy to spread or hard and easily sliced.
Simple Vegan Cheese Recipe
You will need some basic items for this recipe only,
- For the simplest vegan cheese recipes, you’ll need some nuts, squeezed lemon juice/ splash of water, and herbs. For starters, you’d need 2 cups of raw, unsalted cashews. Nuts make a great base for the spreads since they are protein-packed and flavorful. The nuts also add texture. You might want to pre-soak the nuts in water for about 4 hours before you start, to soften the nuts. Even with the most powerful processor, pre-soaking ensures that you achieve a good consistency for your mixture.
- 1 or 1.5 cups of malted or raw grains
- Some salt to taste
The vegan cheese preparation steps and recipes all involve the separation of plant-bacteria by the use of bacteria cultures before the addition of oils and thickeners to ensure the creation of that desired cheese-like consistency.
Like the traditional dairy cheese, the vegetable proteins and the bacteria need to sit for some time for further breakdown and for the development of the perfect flavors.
Preparing the Lactic Starter
To prepare your vegan cheese, you first need to prepare your starter culture – this culture is similar to the one you’d use to make pickles or sauerkraut. For the cheese, you need a lactic bacteria starter culture.
For the culture, you need all grains like barley, wheat, and rice since they all come with their own large populations of natural bacteria.
To access the bacteria culture, we have to change the grains a bit. Here’s how:
First, select your grains, and then after soaking for a few days and rinsing, you will see some sprouts forming. The sprouting is a natural process in all seeds/ grains, and it signals that the starch in the seeds/ grains is more accessible to be fed on by bacteria.
Alternatively, you could start with malted wheat or barley since the malting process makes the starch available and the grains ready for fermentation.
Next up, take the malted or the sprouted grains and add them to a jar of water at room temperature. Then, take the grains in the jar and keep them in a quiet room, at room temperature for 2-3 days.
At this time, you will start seeing bubbling and notice a tangy flavor. These changes are initiated by the enzymes present in the grains and the growing lactic bacteria. This is your lactic starter culture, the primary ingredient for cheese making.
You will use this lactic starter culture to ferment the sugars present in your cashews. The culture also creates that nice tangy flavor you have been looking for.
Note that when you begin to taste the tanginess, you should transfer your mixture to the fridge for things to cool down.
Keep the culture refrigerated for a few weeks while keeping the bacteria active.
Soaking your Cashews
As mentioned above, you need to soak your cashews, about 2 cups for 6-8hours. Once the cashews are soaked, drain them then transfer them to a blender or a food processor.
Here, you are blending your culture with the soaked cashews. Add about ¼ cup of your starter culture to the soaked cashews then blend. Add agar-agar here (agar-agar is a vegan replacement for gelatin, derived from seaweed.
It swells when mixed with water and forms a jelly-like mixture, without altering the taste). For the best results, start from the pulse/ coarse chop function before you switch to a slower speed for the perfect paste.
Add the other ¼ cup of the starter culture and keep blending until you create a smooth paste. Like any other paste you may have prepared in the past, you’ll have to stop and scrape the paste off the back of the processor or blender frequently.
Once you have a smooth paste, transfer it to a bowl, then add sugar and your active bacteria culture – this culture will be ready to convert the sugars in the cashews into lactic acid. Transfer your paste to a covered bowl.
Now that you’ve done all the necessary hard work, it’s time for the mixture to sit pretty and turn into the best cheese.
For that to happen, keep the paste in a quiet room at room temperature. After 2 days or so, you will notice that the flavor of the paste turns from sweet to tangy.
The change results from the action of lactic acid in the starter culture, which converts the sugars in the paste into lactic acid.
Let the fermentation process go on until the flavor feels right to you – not everyone likes tangy/ acidic, and you might like your cheese sweeter.
So, keep checking until the desired taste is achieved.
As soon as the taste feels right to you, refrigerate your vegan cheese, and if it feels too dry, add some water or lemon juice. The latter introduces a fresh flavor.
To enjoy your fresh cheese, leave it in a bowl as a spread or roll it into a log-like form and then mix in any spices or herbs you’d like in your cheese.
After all that work, you want your cheese to last a few weeks. So, wrap it in a breathable wrap in a covered plastic container.
Does Vegan Cheese Taste like Dairy Cheese
The one thing you will notice about the vegan cheese is that its flavors will not be as developed as the flavors of the dairy cheese.
Vegan cheese doesn’t melt the same way, and it won’t have that ooey-gooey feel and look expected on your pizza from dairy cheese. But with time and experience, you’ll create the vegan cheese with the perfect flavors, texture, and consistency.
How Long Does Vegan Cheese Last?
If stores right (in an airtight container), the cheese should last for up to 2 weeks. For it to last longer, you could keep some of it frozen then thaw when ready to use.
Does Vegan Cheese Melt?
Yes, but not in the same way as dairy cheese.
But since the cheese has agar agar and coconut oil, the cheese will respond to different temperature conditions appropriately.
Therefore, you can put the cheese on pizza and grilled foods. For looser vegan cheese that melts, reduce the amount of agar agar used, say from 5 to 3 spoonful, and for thicker and harder cheese, you’d require more agar agar and also leave the cheese in the fridge for longer.
Can You Make Different Varieties of Vegan Cheese?
Yes. Even though the cheese created from the recipe above will have that white cheddar-like taste, given you out the right amount of salt, you can achieve different flavors and tastes by changing the ingredients.
You can reduce the salt, add spices, fresh, or dry herbs to make different varieties. You can add anything from cayenne pepper to black pepper, chives, or dill.