’m a passionate nut lover and I jumped on the wagon of a no-animal-product-eating lifestyle some time ago just to try it out how I’d fair. I have to admit I miss the delicious taste of cheese though.
Indeed, this blog post is not about traditional cheese from the perspective of culinary innovation, but I'm constantly learning to push the limits of food preparation and creativity with whole-plant-based foods. It really gives contemporary cuisine a run for the money.
Nut cheese making
Raw nut cheeses can be wonderful. They can be made 100% dairy free as well as free of preservatives, casein, gluten, soy, lactose, cholesterol and trans fat—perfect for all of us who worry about the intake of such. Give it a try—you just might be surprised how much you like it. There is a good chance to find the big name, non-dairy staple cheeses, e.g., mozzarella, gouda, and parmesan, in assorted supermarkets. If you're into cooking and shy away from preservatives, it does make a big difference to prepare them yourself—and your taste buds will be thankful! Nut-based cheeses are made from alternative milks such cashew, almond, and macadamia nuts, or seeds like sunflowers. Depending on the milk and preparation, such nut milks can have several benefits, e.g., a boost in vitamins E and B12 from almond milk. Next, let’s talk about the basics of non-dairy cheese making.
Raw Cashews: Raw cashews are very popular because they have a neutral taste and create a very creamy texture. Other nuts and some seeds can be used instead, but will give the recipe a different flavor and texture.
Water and nut milks: Water is needed to create an agar gel—it requires boiling. Generally, nut milk is used for a more authentic and rich flavor, but it is not required. You could use water instead. Once you heat the nut milk it will no longer be a raw product, and the heating diminishes the nutritional content of the nut milk.
Agar Powder: Agar is a sea vegetable. It is a somewhat magical ingredient in the nut cheese-making process, because it gives the cheese its structure. You can use agar flakes instead of the powder, but you’ll have to use three times as much. It is also more difficult to dissolve agar flakes in the small amount of water called for in recipes.
Tahini: It is made from ground sesame seeds. It adds a hardy flavor in the nut milk making.
Shapes & Molds: In terms of cheese shape there is flexibility. It's downright liberating that it can be made in just about any size and mold by pouring the nut base in differently shaped containers. I suggest moving quickly when pouring as it sets fast, but if you have them all lined up there is nothing to be worried about.
(recipe yields one 8-inch wheel)
2 cups cashews + 1 cup luke-warm water
1 cup water
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons miso paste
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoons agar powder
1 cup water
Soak the nuts in the water for 4 hours, then drain and rinse them.
In a blender, combine the cashews, 1 cup water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, miso, salt and spices. Process the mixture. In my Vita Prep blender that takes 3 minutes. Adjust th
e blending time accordingly. It should be smooth and creamy—make sure it does not have a gritty mouth-feel.
Agar gel: In a small sauce pan over medium heat bring 1 cup of water to boil, then add the agar. With a whisk stir continuously until the agar totally dissolves. Typically that takes several minutes. If most of the water has evaporated and the agar did not dissolve add more water and continue stirring.
Add the cooked agar gel to the blended nut mixture and process for 1 minute.
Quickly transfer the mixture into the molds. Agar will start to set as it cools rather quickly.
Place molds in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes.
Chef’s Note: In my experience the nut cheese releases easily out of the mold once it has set. It just pops out when inverting the mold carefully onto a plate. It keeps up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
(recipe yields 2 cups)
2 cups blanched almonds (no skin)
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a kitchen processor. Blend mixture for 2 minutes.
Store mixture up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Chef’s Tip: I like to add fresh herbs, such as finely chopped herbs like thyme, parsley or chives.