Making parve cheese

What foods go best with cheese?

Cashew cheese can pass for the real thing when served with bagels (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Cashew cheese can pass for the real thing when served with bagels
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
At a class for food bloggers on making vegan cheeses from nuts, the results were delicious.
The teachers, Nancy Eisman of the blog Plant-Based 411 and Dana Levin Shrager of Foodie Goes Healthy, showed us how to make vegan ricotta cheese from almonds, and smooth, velvety cream cheese from cashews.
Eisman turned some of the cream cheese into vegan “lox and cream cheese” spread – with roasted red pepper for color, nori (seaweed) to evoke the taste of the sea, and liquid smoke to recall the aroma of smoked salmon. (See recipes.)
The lesson was fascinating. We were especially impressed by the cashew mozzarella (see recipe), not only for its wonderful taste and texture, but also because it seemed easier to make than dairy mozzarella.
The recipes used at the class were adapted from Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner, who is known for the vegan cheeses made by her company, Miyoko’s Kitchen. She makes a variety of vegan cheeses, including Brie, Cheddar and Gruyère.
In her book, Schinner explained that the proteins in soy milk and nut milk react differently to culturing agents, and so the process of making them into cheese is not the same as with dairy milk. Often, vegan cheese, instead of being cultured, is given a cheese-like taste by being flavored with lemon juice.
But Schinner found a way to culture her vegan cheeses. “This,” she wrote, “helps create... more flavor, depth and umami – that extremely satisfying savory taste designated as the fifth basic flavor.”
Many of Schinner’s cheeses utilize methods developed by people who specialize in preparing raw food and involve culturing pureed cashews or other nuts. She mentions that “achieving this complexity of flavor is something you simply cannot rush – you must let the process unfold naturally.” For example, she makes cultured macadamia ricotta by pureeing soaked raw macadamia nuts with water and salt and letting the mixture stand at room temperature to culture for 12 to 24 hours.
Some of Schinner’s cheeses do not require culturing. An example is almond ricotta made by blending soaked blanched almonds with water and salt. (See recipe.)
A particularly easy-to-make cheese is nut Parmesan, which Schinner makes by chopping pine nuts, almonds or walnuts in a food processor with nutritional yeast flakes and salt, until the mixture has a granular mixture.
To make cashew cream as a substitute for heavy cream for use in sauces, soups and dressings, Schinner blends cashews and water. For her vegan whipped cream, she uses chilled coconut cream – the solidified portion of chilled canned coconut milk.
What foods go best with cheese? Our assignment for the class was to consider this question and to bring our favorite cheese accompaniment.
Since we like to serve cheese with vegetables, we made roasted eggplant with peppers, tomatoes and fresh za’atar. There was also a beautiful salad of baby tomatoes with fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which was perfect with the fresh mozzarella; a green salad with olives, carrots and vinaigrette; and orange-flavored pickled beet slices with walnuts and greens.
Some prepared fruity accompaniments such as persimmon salsa and apple, grape and persimmon salad. There were sweets, too, like grape honey, candied walnuts flavored with Aleppo pepper, and vegan cookies. Of course, there were fresh bread and crackers.
And the nut-based cheeses tasted good with everything. 
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
Miyoko Schinner wrote that her cashew cream cheese can be used to make cheesecakes, cream cheese frosting and other recipes traditionally made from cream cheese. She also uses it to make savory spreads like sun-dried tomato and garlic cream cheese.
The cream cheese will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks or in the freezer for 4 weeks. From the same cashew mixture she makes nondairy mascarpone cheese by letting the mixture culture for a shorter time so it becomes less tangy.
Makes about 900 grams (2 lb.) or 4 cups
■ 4 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 4 to 6 hours and drained
■ 1 cup water
■ 4 Tbsp. plain, unsweetened, nondairy yogurt or homemade cashew yogurt (see notes below)
■ Pinch of salt
Combine the cashews, water, yogurt and salt in a blender and process until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the inside of the blender as necessary.
Transfer the mixture to a clean glass container, cover and let rest at room temperature at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. (Longer resting results in a sharper flavor.) Refrigerate the cheese in its covered container. It will become firmer when chilled.
Note 1: You can also use minimally sweetened plain yogurt.
Note 2: For homemade cashew yogurt, combine 1 cup plain soy milk or almond milk in a blender with ²⁄3 cup raw cashews that you have soaked in water for 3 hours and drained. Process until smooth and creamy.
Transfer to a heavy medium saucepan. Whisk in 3 additional cups plain soy milk or almond milk.
Cook over low heat, whisking occasionally, until mixture reaches 43°C (110°F) or until a few drops placed on your wrist feel slightly warm.
Remove from heat. Add 3 tablespoons plain, unsweetened nondairy yogurt and stir until thoroughly combined.
Pour into a clean 1-liter (1-quart) glass jar and cover. Let stand in a warm place for 4 to 8 hours until set and has the desired degree of tartness. Refrigerate; when chilled, it will become thicker.
Nancy Eisman serves this tasty spread with bagels.
Makes about 2 cups
■ 2 cups cashew cream cheese
■ 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
■ A few drops of liquid smoke
■ 1 roasted sweet red pepper, roughly chopped
■ 2 sheets of nori, finely torn
In a food processor, combine the cream cheese with the salt, liquid smoke, sweet pepper and nori. Process until well blended. Taste for amounts of salt and liquid smoke.
We enjoyed this cheese with honey and pomegranate seeds. For extra flavor, Dana Levin Shrager adds nutritional yeast and lemon to Schinner’s recipe, which calls for only almonds, water and salt.
Makes about 4 cups
■ 2 cups blanched almonds, soaked in water for 8 to 12 hours and drained (see note)
■ 1½ to 2 cups water
■ ½ tsp. salt, or more to taste
■ 1½ to 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, or more to taste
■ A few drops lemon juice, or to taste
■ About ¹⁄8 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
Drain the soaked almonds. Put them in a high-speed blender with 1½ cups water, ½ teaspoon salt and the nutritional yeast. Begin processing at low speed and gradually increase speed, processing until light and fluffy, with a somewhat ricotta-like texture; gradually add more water if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Note: Schinner wrote that if you don’t have blanched almonds, you can start with raw almonds in their skins. After the soaking period, squeeze one almond at a time between your thumb and index finger to pop it out of its skin.
This vegan mozzarella is especially delicious with the traditional mozzarella accompaniments of ripe tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
Schinner recommends storing fresh vegan mozzarella in a brine made of 4 cups ice water and 1 teaspoon salt in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Makes about 4 or 5 cups
■ 2 cups plain, unsweetened, nondairy yogurt
■ 2 cups raw cashews, soaked 4 to 6 hours and drained
■ 3 tsp. salt
■ 2 cups water
■ 6 Tbsp. tapioca flour
■ 2 Tbsp. agar powder
Combine the yogurt, cashews, salt and 1 cup of the water in a blender. Process until blended. Transfer to a container, cover loosely with cheesecloth, and set aside for 12 to 24 hours or until it tastes slightly tangy.
Whisk in the tapioca flour.
Combine the agar with 1 cup water in a saucepan or sauté pan. Whisk mixture over medium heat until blended.
Cover and bring to a boil. Then simmer over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 or 4 minutes or until agar is completely dissolved.
Pour the yogurt-cashew mixture into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, stretchy and glossy, about 15 minutes.
Prepare a bowl of ice water. Using an ice-cream scoop, remove “balls” of the mixture and drop into ice water. Let stand in the ice water until firm, about 20 minutes.