The Real Deal On Plant Based Vegan Cheese
Plant based cheese has come a long way in the last few years, and there are some options that closely resemble animal cheeses, as well as ones that are distinctly different, but still delicious. Whether your interest in these cheeses stems from not wanting to consume animal products, or from wanting to eat foods which are delicious in their own right, read on to find out more about this growing trend in the foodie world.
While researching this article, I actually found it difficult to get information about vegan cheese other than lists of which brands or varieties are best. I have attempted to go further than simply recommending brands, and have delved into different plant bases as well as different production techniques. To be honest though, in my experience, one fermented cashew cheese may be completely different to another fermented cashew cheese, so perhaps brand specific guides are the way to go.
Plant based cheese can be served in much the same way as animal cheese. It works on cheeseboards or charcuterie platters with the proper cheese serving tools, as well as on salads, pasta, pizza, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Treatment is largely the same as animal based cheese, especially for use on platters - slice a little bit, but don't expose too much of it to air, serve with complimentary accompaniments, and let the cheese reach room temperature for full flavor development prior to serving.
COMMON PLANT BASES FOR CHEESE
Cashews seem to be at the forefront of nut-based cheeses. They have a great consistency, a favorable flavor (for most consumers), are easy to source, and have a high fat content which mimics dairy. Almonds, macadamias, and Brazil nuts are also common, but they are not as easy to work with ie almonds have a bitter skin which needs to be dealt with.
Coconut creates a very creamy cheese, but it is difficult to cover up the coconutty smell and flavor. For some, this is a bonus, but for others, a huge detriment! I love coconut with certain foods, such as pineapples, but I don’t love it with olives and sun-dried tomatoes, so I steer clear of most coconut based vegan cheese.
Soy was the original base used for vegan cheese, and is still common today. It is low cost, doesn’t have a strong flavor, and is only a moderately common allergen. The downside of soy cheese, for a lot of consumers, is that it can only be made in a factory – it is not possible to make an artisan soy cheese.
Aquafaba is the liquid that is in cans of chickpeas, and has some unexpected uses in cooking! I have been pouring it down the sink for years, as I had no idea that it could be so useful. For cheese making, it adds the elusive melty capability because of its unique starches and proteins. This liquid does not create a base for cheese by itself, but it is an important addition for those wanting a plant based cheese that mimics dairy based cheeses when cooked.
Potato & Carrot Cheese
A variety of root vegetables can be used to create creamy, smooth cheeses for spreads and dips. These veggies just need to be boiled, then pureed with some seasoning to reach the desired consistency. Cheeses made from root vegetables are not suitable for fermenting or making hard cheese from, but they do work in a soft, spreadable form.
VEGAN CHEESE MAKING TECHNIQUES
Blending, Using a Setting Agent and Nutritional Yeast
One method for making vegan cheese is to blend up a bunch of ingredients, including the cheese base and desired spices for flavor, and then adding a setting agent, and nutritional yeast. The setting agent (such as agar agar) helps the liquidy starter set up in a consistency similar to cheese, and the nutritional yeast gives the signature tangy flavor of cheese. This method produces cheese that is hard enough to be sliced thinly, and is it is very easy to add flavoring agents into.
Probiotic cultures are added to the plant milk to ferment vegan cheese. Fermented cheeses take a lot more time and effort than blending ingredients and adding a setting agent, but fermentation does give a more cheesy flavor. It takes at least eight hours, but can be up to a couple of days. The longer the fermentation, the deeper the cheesy flavor will be. After fermentation, aging can be anywhere from weeks to months. The longer that the cheese is aged, the more firm the texture will be, and if mold is added, it will have more time to develop with a longer aging.
Melting Using Tapioca Starch (or Vegan Casein if you can get your hands on it!)
Some recipes call for a cashew (or other) base, and then make a thick, melty type mixture with lots of stretch by adding tapioca starch. Tapioca starch is considered to be the ONLY starch that will give your vegan cheese a chance to form a cheese pull! Cheese made using this process will be melty and stretchy when hot, but will lose this character once it cools down.
Here are some plant based cheese companies that you should check out:
Treeline Tree Nut Cheese – Kingston, New York
Blue Heron Creamery – Vancouver, British Columbia
Kite Hill Plant Based Artisans – Hayward, California
Vtopian Cheeses – Portland, Oregon
Dr Cow – Brooklyn, New York
Mikoyo's Creamery – Sonoma, California
Daiya Foods – Vancouver, British Columbia
Nuts For Cheese – London, Ontario