I have always loved cheese (see my previous post should you have doubts), so when I decided to adopt a more plant-based diet, I was concerned about cheese’s role in the change. Some commercial ones were okay. Some were flat-out awful. And selections in my local stores were limited to individually wrapped cheese slices. I was beginning to think that would be the extent of my cheese experience with a plant-based diet.
I was wrong.
I’ve made lots of cheese. Lots and lots. Yes, I’ve been a cheesemaker for a long time. So it was only reasonable to assume I’d go back to those roots and try my hand at nondairy cheese. I’ve posted about some of those efforts previously. They were hit and miss. But I wasn’t ready to give up. Especially if it meant I could have my beloved pepper jack cheese.
Quick Google and YouTube searches will find the name Miyoko Schinner when it comes to vegan cheese. I started my search with her book The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples. (By the way, the yogurt recipe is fabulous.) I made her “Oil-Free Melty Pepper Jack” a few times and loved it.
About that title. “Melty” is kind of an overstatement. The texture of this cheese is not like the dairy version. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just different. It doesn’t get really hard. In fact, it’s sliceable but still spreadable. When used for a grilled cheese, it softens nicely, but I wouldn’t say it melts like one finds with dairy cheese.
The recipe calls for cashews, rejuvelac, sea salt, roasted jalapenos, water, agar powder, and tapioca starch. Schinner says you can use juice from sauerkraut instead of rejuvelac. Since my experience with rejuvelac is, well, iffy, I opted for the sauerkraut juice the first couple times.
Agar powder might be unfamiliar to you. It’s a thickener made from algae. I couldn’t find it locally, so I ordered it.
That’s the basic ingredient list, and that’s what I used the first few times. With the latest batch, I changed it up a bit. I increased the amount of jalapenos (might not have been a smart move. HOT!) and added chives, turmeric, and nutritional yeast. Oh, and I used the whey from homemade yogurt instead of rejuvelac or sauerkraut juice.
This is a cultured cheese, so it does require some planning ahead. But it’s all easy. Take the cashews, liquid of choice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, and salt, and whiz in a blender. Pour into a jar, cover with a lid, and let it sit out for a day or two. It’s cold in my house, so I let it go three days. You’re looking for it to thicken, get air bubbles, and have a tangy smell. Like those pictures up there.
When you think it’s ready to become cheese. it’s time to work with the agar. Not a big deal. Combine the agar and all but 2 tablespoons of the water in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a simmer. AND DON’T PEEK. Seriously. Don’t take the cover off for 3 or 4 minutes. It may look like the agar has dissolved and done its thickening thing, but it could be toying with your emotions. Just wait a couple more minutes.
When it’s fully dissolved, add the cheese mixture and stir well. Really well. You want to make sure the mixture is well combined with the agar. As it heats up, make a slurry with the tapioca starch and remaining water. Add to the cheese and stir, stir, stir. And stir some more. You’re looking for something thick, stretchy, and shiny.
When it’s reached the proper consistency, stir in the jalapenos. Pour into a mold. I use a small springform cake pan. Works great.
I let it cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge to cool completely and set, about 4 hours. Then I take it out, unmold it, and let it sit on my drying rack on the counter for at least a day, flipping it regularly. This creates a “rind” that I really like.
Store in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic or cheese paper for up to 2 weeks, but it doesn’t last that long for me.
As I was licking the left-behinds out of the pot, I was already thinking about my next batch. I need a cashew tree.The Enabling Cook