The best tasting and healthiest vegan cheeses are made in the same way traditional dairy cheese is made - through the magic of fermentation!
2 cups cashews, macadamia nuts or almonds
! teaspoon fine sea salt (add more for flavor after culturing time)
1/3 cup full fat coconut milk (optional)
Optional flavorings (see below)
Culture of choice:
Cover cashews with water and soak for about 8 hours. Drain off water. Place cashews and sea salt in a food processor or high-speed blender and start blending! Add a little bit of filtered water (start with an 1/8 cup) as needed. If you're using coconut milk for a creamier texture, add that in lieu of the water, integrating small amounts at a time in the same way. The goal is to not make it overly wet, but a smooth paste-like consistency. Continue to blend on low speed, stopping often to mix and scrape down sides, until a smooth paste forms. Once blended, scrape the puree into a bowl or wide mouth jar and add your culture of choice. Mix thoroughly.
FOR CREAM CHEESE - LIKE SPREAD
Cover your container with plastic wrap, bees wrap or a cloth cover. Set in a warm place and let ferment for 1-3 days. Check and taste every 24 hours. It will get more sour and aerated the longer it ferments. When it tastes tangy enough for you, add your desired flavorings to taste (see options below). Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The cheese will keep in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container, for about 2 weeks.
FOR A FIRMER CHEESE
Follow all the previous steps including refrigerating for at least 2 hours - the mixture will stiffen a bit, making it easier to work with.
Place a fine mesh strainer (or colander) over a small or medium mixing bowl and place a layer of muslin cloth over the strainer. Spoon mixture into the cloth. Then gather the corners and gently twist the top to form the cheese into a "disc." Secure with a rubber band or simply tie the cloth corners. Take a small amount of sea salt and rub around the exterior of the cloth bundle.
Leave in strainer, on the countertop at room temperature for 1-3 days. The longer it sits, the drier and tangier it will become. After the cheese gets fairly sharp and more solid, unwrap the cheese and sprinkle sea salt on all sides of the cheese. Then shape it to your preference by hand or transfer into a cheese form. Set it on a wooden cutting board (this helps to absorb the moisture) to age further for 2-4 days. A brown rind will form and the flavor will keep developing.
Once the cheese has cultured to your taste and firmness, transfer to the refrigerator to set for at least 6 hours to firm/harden and chill. To serve, carefully unwrap from cheesecloth and gently invert onto a serving platter. Reform with hands or cheesecloth as needed. Then coat with chopped herbs, black pepper, or spice mix (optional). It can be fragile, so handle gently.
You can also freeze a portion to grate as a garnish or dehydrate for 3-6 hours for a drier more sliceable cheese.
The cheese will keep in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container, for about 2 weeks. Best served chilled.
FLAVORING VEGAN CHEESE
Most of these flavor additions can be added during the initial blending stage if your goal it to make a firmer cheese. Otherwise you can add after blending and culturing if you’re making a softer-style cream cheese.
Nutritional Yeast - A deactivated yeast that is sold in the form of yellow flakes and powders. It has an uncanny cheesy, nutty flavor that makes it especially useful in making nut "cheese" and cheese sauces.
Miso, Soy Sauce or Coconut Aminos- All three options are salty, savory and packed with umami flavor. Gives an aged cheese flavor.
Flavored Salts - Experiment with savory notes using smoked salts, mushroom salt and chili spiced salts.
Lemon Juice or Pickle Brine - A squeeze of lemon juice brings that slightly sour flavor that you get from dairy-based cheeses.
Garlic & Onions - Roasted garlic, shallots and chives are a great go-to for a savory, aromatic cheese spreads.