Monday, September 7, 2015

Nut Cheese: Is It Gross? / Easy Step-By-Step

A slice of almond cheese in a lettuce wrap
First off, no, it's delicious. It does not taste like cow's cheese, but when combined with other ingredients (like tofu in a stir-fry, or almond milk in cereal) its texture and flavour are just right. Those transitioning from meat and dairy on to a plant-based diet will enjoy how creamy and umami nut cheeses taste. It has that rich, fatty, tangy fermented flavour everyone loves. Not restricted to cheese made from milk, however, one can puree soaked nuts, mix a few ingredients in, and let the mixture cure on their counter-top overnight for a similar effect.

*Disclosure: I'm not a fan of "vegan substitutes" as I find they give a bad name to the plant-based community. I've had this "Tofurkey" debate with a number of friends. Sure, they provide a non-animal option for many folks transitioning to vegetarian or vegan diets, but I believe they do little to help individuals acquire their tastes to natural foods. How is one to genuinely love raw fruits and veggies if they keep feeding themself salty, chewy, "fleshy" soy simulations? These types of things (ie: veggie burgers and dogs) can be very useful to blend in at family BBQs, but I say just bring a heaping bowl of quinoa and veggie salad. The ingredient list on a number of simulation foods is scary long, in comparison. I think it's best to just go through a processed-foods withdrawal for a few weeks, and emerge on the other side getting stoked about apples and raw sunflower seeds. (True story). All of a sudden, meat and dairy will feel overly-dense and rich compared to crunchy, fresh produce.

Slice-able cashew cheese swirled w/ beet puree
That said, raw nut cheese, when made at home, is very healthy. Just a few ingredients are used, and it opens up a world of food options. Suddenly, I have another "glue" to keep veggie wraps together, something to spread on apples with jam, a tangy dollop to stir into soup, etc. Like yogurt, consuming nut cheese's healthy bacteria - cultivated through the fermentation process - restores one's gut flora and boosts immunity. The recipe is four steps, and ridiculously fun to make. If you're feeling sassy, make it herb n' garlic flavoured; or you can go the sweet-route with honey or maple syrup. You can make it spread-able like cream cheese, or slice-able like mozzarella. It does not melt and get stringy, rather will spread-out, puff, and get a little bruleed on the top. (Great on pizza). There are so many possibilities!

Step One: Soaking 

Place two handfuls of nuts in a bowl of water in the fridge, overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse with fresh water. Almonds, macadamia nuts, and cashews are my favourite. This steps makes them super soft for blending and aids the creaminess of your cheese.
Spread-able almond cheese 

Step Two: The Only Weird Part 

Probiotics (added to both styles): Empty 3 capsules of probiotic culture or a 1/2 package of probiotic yogurt-starter into a few tablespoons of warm water. They can be purchased in any health-food store or isle. This can be done in a little bowl or drinking glass. Let sit while you blend the rest of ingredients.

Spread-able or Slice-able: If you want a cream cheese mixture, then continue to next step. If you want a thick, slice-able cheese, then you need to acquire one extra ingredient: agar agar flakes. Sounds strange, but it's simply a vegetarian gelatin substitute. A big package can be bought for around $5 at any health-food store. Just boil a 1/4 cup of water, let cool slightly, and then stir in a few tablespoons of the flakes. It will thicken into what looks like a jam/jelly starter. When added to your nut mixture and set to cool, you'll be amazed by the texture it gives your cheese!

Step Three: Blending

Savoury Cheese: To a blender add - handful of nutritional yeast - juice of half a lemon - splash of apple cider vinegar - dollop of any miso (I use chickpea miso) - salt and pepper to taste. Add just enough water to get the mixture spinning in the blender. Puree on high until it looks like cream cheese. Add your probiotic water, and agar agar mixture (if you are going the slice-able route) and blend again. Taste, and adjust seasonings. Stir, don't blend, any extra flavourings you like. Ie: chopped dill, minced garlic, etc.

Sweet: To a blender add - juice of half a lemon - few tablespoons of any sweetener (honey, agave, maple-syrup, etc.) or a few drops of stevia - pinch of salt. Add just enough water to get the mixture spinning in the blender. Puree on high until it looks like cream cheese. Add your probiotic water, and agar agar mixture (if you're going the slice-able route) and blend again. Taste, adjust seasonings. Stir in, don't blend, any extra flavouring you like. Ie: dried cranberries, cinnamon, etc.

Carrot & ginger soup with slice of cheese
Step Four: Setting 

If you went the spread-able route: Pour the mixture into a bowl. Cover with a tea-towel and let sit on your counter-top overnight and up to two days. It will get tangier the longer it sits. When you stick a spoon in it after the first night, it will let out some air. The frothy bubbles prove that the healthy bacteria are doing their work. Put in an air-tight container and store in the fridge. Keeps for 3 days. Spread or dollop on anything you like.

If you went the slice-able route: Line any mould or bowl with plastic wrap. Pour in your mixture. Put in the fridge to set for a few hours. When hard, turn-out onto a plate and peel off plastic wrap. Cover with a tea-towel and let sit on your counter-top overnight and up to two days. It will get tangier the longer it sits. After curing, put in an airtight container and store in the fridge. Keeps for 3 days. Slice and serve on anything you like. 



Chard leaves, cashew cheese, sprouts, carrots
Apples, sweet almond cheese, jam, & hemp seeds
Soaking nuts overnight
Oats, chia seeds, sweet almond cheese, banana, cinnamon


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