The idea of nut cheese probably either scares a lot of people, or makes them think I'm a total looney toon. The thing is, who said "cheese" can only refer to things made of milk?
Yes, it's traditionally made from cow's milk or goat's milk, but you can also produce a really similar texture with nuts, and then put the nuts through the same steps as the milk and create a phenomenal treat.
One of the hardest things for me to drop from my diet was cheese, and though I'll never look back, I've been wandering the vegan world looking for vegan cheese that gets really, really close to the "real" thing.
What I have found is nut cheese. And wow, do I love it!
I think it's time to let the word "cheese" evolve. Couldn't cheese refer to another type of condiment, one that is sometimes hard, sometimes spreadable, and often melts extremely well? There could be cow's milk cheeses, goat's milk cheese, cashew cheeses, macadamia cheeses, pignolia cheeses, and more.
Granted, right now there are plenty of vegan non-dairy cheeses on the market. The longer I've been away from dairy cheese, the more tolerable soy and rice based cheeses become. But, none is quite as satisfying as a tasting an nibbling cheese as nut cheese. Take my word for it, if I say these are just as good as dairy cheese, it means something!
Dr. Cow makes several delicious versions out of cashews and macadamia nuts, aged for months. The only problems are that it isn't widely available outside of the New York City area, and it's not extremely affordable. Dr. Cow is more of a delicacy than an everyday item, and I love it for wine and cheese parties and fancy picnics.
Punk Rawk Labs Nut Milk Cheeses are also available at Vegan Essentials and are made with either cashew or macadamia nuts (or a combination of both) and the flavors are plain, herbed, and smoked.
I've also heard people sing the praises of Treeline Soft French Style Nut Cheese, but I haven't tried it myself. It's made with a cashew base and comes in a few scallion or herb flavors. You can find it at VeganEssentials.com.
I've seen a surge in restaurants making their own cheese from nuts, and their versions are often incredible. Often the nut of choice is the cashew because it imparts a sweet but tangy flavor, creaminess, and great texture.
Some of those restaurants even have cookbooks. One of my favorites is Real Food Daily, a Los Angeles restaurant that has been around for years and has recently published a cookbook called Real Food Daily Cookbook: Really Fresh, Really Good, Really Vegetarian.
One of Real Food Daily's first recipes in the book is a versatile cheddar cheese made from raw cashews. Evidently the recipe is so good that when it first hit the menu, people started complaining that the restaurant had lost its way and moved to the dark side by offering dairy cheese. Their cheddar melts perfectly for grilled cheese sandwiches, and has no trouble hardening if you want chunks of it. The ingredients are also fairly commonplace in most vegan kitchens, and are the types of things that you can buy once and use for long time.
I put together an ebook for people who are trying to quit the highly addictive dairy milk and go vegan, called Cut the Cheese. In it I pass along my top 12 favorite vegan cheese recipes, a few of which are made from nuts, like the simple vegan Parmesan in the picture above.
The most impressive nut cheese cookbook in stores is the Artisan Vegan Cheese, by Miyoko Schinner. The base for most of the recipes is a vegan version of rejuvelac, the curdling agent used to turn nuts into cheese. With the whole grain-based rejuvelac and a combination of different nuts, you can learn to make anything from yogurt and cheese sauce to gourmet-style brie, gouda, sharp cheddar, and chevre. It's really a fabulous cookbook for any cheese lover.
Another cookbook I love that displays a gorgeous cheese recipe is Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. Veganomicon is filled with delicious recipes, but its nut cheese recipe is a step above. Made with pine nuts, this light and airy cheese is fabulous in lasagna, moussaka, and other layered dishes, and can really be saved and used as a topping for everything.
And an old standby for nut cheeses is The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook: Delicious Dairy-Free Cheeses and Classic "Uncheese" Dishes, which has an enormous selection of vegan cheese recipes.
A note on ingredients: Many vegan cheeses use agar flakes or powder as a hardener. Agar (sometimes called agar agar) is the vegan version of gelatin, and when dissolved over low heat, it allows dishes to gel. You can find agar at health food stores, but you often pay a premium price for it. If you have an Asian store near you, you can find strips of agar at a much better price and can crumble them yourself. One thing to keep in mind is that agar can be cut a variety of different ways, so it's often better to follow the recipe according to weight rather than measurement.
You have to get on board and try making one of these delicious cheese recipes yourself! I promise you won't regret it.