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  • Beginner
  • 1 Pound
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    • 2 Cups Raw Unsalted Cashews
    • 1-1.5 Cups Raw or Malted Grains
    • Salt to taste


    • Colander
    • Blender or Food Processor
    • Large Spoon
    • Container with Lid

    How to Make a Basic Vegan Cheese

    No milk or rennet is needed for this cheese. The starter culture used is much like the starter for pickles or sauerkraut. In this recipe you will learn how to make your own "starter culture" for a basic vegan cheese.

    Now, let's learn how to make vegan cheese at home for a healthy and tasty snack.

    1 Prepare a Lactic Starter

    We are first going to make our own lactic bacteria starter culture.

    All grains, such as wheat, barley rice, etc., come complete with their own population of natural bacteria. We can access these by changing the grains a bit:

    1. Choose your grains and after soaking and rinsing the grains over a few days you will see small sprouts beginning to form. This is a natural event in all plant grain/seeds and when it happens - the starch in the grain/seed changes into a more accessible food for the bacteria. Schinner details this sprouting in her book.
    2. My variation here is to begin with some malted barley (or wheat) since the malting process has already taken care of the change in starch and it is ready for fermentation. This can be found at most health food or homebrew stores.

    You can now take the sprouted or malted grain and add it to a jar of water at room temperature.

    Place this in a quiet place at room temperature for 2-3 days. You will see some bubbling and will notice a very tangy change to the flavor. This is the result of enzymes in the grains and lactic bacteria growing.

    This will be the lactic starter culture to ferment the sugars in the cashews which creates that nice tangy flavor we are looking for. Once the fermentation tastes a bit tangy, place it in the fridge to slow things down. This will keep for a few weeks and remain active.

    2 Soak Cashews

    Soak 2 cups of cashews for about 6-8 hours. Once soaked, place them in a colander to drain and then transfer them into a blender or food processor.

    3 Blend Cashews & Culture

    Now add about 1/4 cup of the starter/rejuvelac to your soaked cashews and begin turning it all into a smooth paste.

    I find that it works best to begin with a coarse chop and then switch to a slower speed for the paste. Once coarsely chopped add the remaining 1/4 cup of starter/rejuvelac and continue mixing until a smooth paste is formed.

    You will find that you need to stop and scrape it all back into the center frequently.

    4 Transfer Paste into Bowl

    You now have a cashew paste to supply the protein mass and sugar along with an active bacteria culture that is ready to convert the sugars to lactic acid. Transfer this paste into a covered bowl.

    5 Fermenting

    Now, all that you need is a bit of time in a quiet place to keep it at room temperature (68-72°F). You will begin to notice that after about 2 days, the flavor of the sweet paste becomes somewhat tangy. This is due to the lactic bacteria you prepared in the starter as it converts the sugars in the cashew paste to lactic acid.

    Allow this fermentation to continue until the flavor is right for you. Some people like it balanced to the acid side while others like it a bit sweeter. It's all good in my book.

    As soon as it seems right to your taste, you can refrigerate your vegan cheese. If it seems to be too dry at this point, you may add some more liquid as you mix it. Lemon juice can sometimes add a nice fresh flavor.

    6 Finished Cheese

    The best part of course is when it is ready to eat. You can now leave it in the bowl as a spread, roll it into a log or other form, mix in any herbs or spices you care to add, or use it as a base for one of Schinner's other cheeses. Its all good.

    This will now last for a couple of weeks refrigerated. Just wrap in a breathable wrap and store in a covered plastic container.

    What is Vegan Cheese?

    For those trying to avoid consuming animal products such as dairy, vegan cheese may be an option. This can also be great for those having problems with lactose intolerance or a true milk protein allergy.

    Ricki now has a new book: "Artisan Vegan Cheese" by Miyoko Schinner. That may be a true inspiration for some of our customers with dairy issues or those just trying to eat closer to the food chain.

    How does this differ from “true" cheese?

    A true cheese is made by consolidating milk proteins (casein) with calcium and a combination of enzymes (rennet). Then, developing acidity using a lactic culture which converts milk sugars (lactose) to lactic acid. The consolidated protein (curd) is then cut and heated to encourage moisture release, thus separating the solid from the liquid phase. The resulting cheese can undergo a modification of protein during aging resulting in the textures and flavors associated with a ripened cheese.

    A definition of cheese from Codex Alimentarius, FAO/WHO - they have issued their Standard A6 as a definition for cheese products:

    Cheese is the fresh or ripened solid or semi-solid product in which the whey protein/casein ratio does not exceed that of milk obtained:

    (a) by coagulating (whole or partly) the following raw materials: milk, skimmed milk, partly skimmed milk, cream, whey cream, or buttermilk, through the action of rennet or other suitable coagulating agents, and by partly draining the whey resulting from such coagulation; or

    (b) by processing techniques involving coagulation of milk and/or materials obtained from milk which give an end product which has similar physical, chemical and organoleptic characteristics as the product named under Classification of Cheese.

    Vegan cheese is simply the consolidation of the protein mass from nuts, coconut, beans etc. A lactic bacteria may also be used to provide the acidity for this. For a firmer vegan cheese, emulsifiers, oils and thickeners must also be used. The consolidation is simply a matter of compaction of the proteins and unlike real cheese, there is no physical bonding of the proteins. Vegan cheese does not undergo the natural ripening which the proteins do in a real cheese, so it will not have the complex flavor profile of a true cheese that has been aged.

    How to Make Vegan Cheese

    The process is really quite simple and involves the preparation of a natural lactic type of bacteria which you can create yourself from grains. In the vegan world they call this rejuvelac (a lactic culture to rejuvenate the system, I guess).
    Then you will need a source of protein such as a nut or bean base. Here we will be using cashew nuts... that's it!

    The grains are allowed to germinate for a day or so and then allowed to ferment with the natural bacteria that they bring to the table. After about 3 days you will have a rather tangy liquid with a natural lactic bacteria population ready to ferment the protein that you will now prepare.

    Once you have your natural bacteria "starter" you are now ready to prep the cashews. This is done simply by soaking the cashews in water for about 6-8 hours to soften them up a bit. Once this is done you simply need to reduce the nuts to a smooth paste, then add the starter rejuvelac, and set it all in a quiet spot at room temperature for 2-3 days depending on the flavor you desire.

    At the end of this time, it will have a nice tangy flavor from the fermented sugars supplied by the cashews and it is ready to eat as is. The book does go on to give you many ideas to enhance your new vegan cheese and it will look much like a chevre or any spreadable cheese.

    At this point Schinner goes on to describe many other options using this prepared cashew base or using other non-diary bases for many other "cheeses." As mentioned above, there is no real chemical consolidation in vegan cheese. The more advanced cheeses, however, do call for the additions of oils, thickeners, and other additions to achieve the texture and slicing ability of a true cheese.

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