Say yes to Vegan Cheese
By Lisa Turner
You'll never miss the milk with these do-it-yourself artisan selections

vegan-cheeseThere’s just something about cheese. Few of us can resist the rich creaminess of a good Brie, the comforting gooeyness of melted mozzarella, or the sassy bite of aged cheddar. Cheese adds savory notes, volumes of flavor, and a hard-to-beat charisma to any recipe.

But when it comes to our health, cheese is nothing to smile about. It’s high in saturated fats and compounds that can promote inflammation and increase risk of heart disease. Cheese also contains lactose, a type of sugar that’s difficult to digest, and it’s linked with food sensitivities in many people.

Conventionally raised dairy also contains harmful antibiotics and added hormones. And even organic dairy naturally contains hormones that can accelerate growth and development in children, including early puberty, and may spur the growth of certain tumors and increase the risk of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers. In one recent study, for example, women who consumed the most dairy products were more likely to die over a 12-year period, compared with those who consumed the least.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great alternatives. True cheese lovers agree that many dairy-free cheeses are rubbery and bland. Some also contain soy, another allergen, and most are made with casein, a milk product that’s not appropriate for anyone who follows a vegan diet or is seriously allergic to milk products.

For the best-tasting, cleanest, dairy-free cheese, try making your own. You can find lots of dairy-free and vegan cookbooks with cheese recipes, or experiment with your own. Some tips to get you started:

nuts1. Begin with nuts as the main ingredient—they’re high in protein and healthy fats that add body and a creamy mouth-feel. Soak nuts for 3–8 hours to improve their texture and reduce compounds that interfere with digestion and protein absorption. Pine nuts, cashews, or walnuts are the best choices for soft cheeses, while macadamias, almonds, and Brazil nuts make great bases for firmer cheeses.

coconut-oil2. Try adding coconut oil for texture. Though it’s a saturated fat, most studies show that it actually improves cholesterol levels.

nut-butter3. Add cashew or other nut butters for extra creaminess.They are especially useful for making short-cut cheese sauces.

blender4. Use a high-quality, powerful blender or food processor to purée ingredients until they’re very smooth and creamy. This may take several minutes in some food processors—if so, be sure to turn the processor off every 30–45 seconds to avoid overheating.

Nutritional-yeast5. Add seasonings. Nutritional yeast adds a tangy, cheese-like flavor, and miso provides depth, earthiness, and “umami” flavor (the savory element in cheese). Flavored salts, herbs, and spices are other good additions.

6. Try fermenting your cheese to create more flavor depth and encourage the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria. For traditional fermenting, start with rejuvelac—a fermented beverage made from wheat berries—or take a shortcut with probiotic powders or capsules.

Vegan cheese: make it at home!

Lemon-Rosemary Parmesan Shake
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Perfect on popcorn or pasta, this savory shake blends tangy lemon and fragrant rosemary for added flavor. Vary the herbs to create different flavors; swap truffle salt for the lemon and rosemary; or try black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes, curry powder, or cumin and oregano.

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup nutritional yeast

1 large lemon, zested

2–3 tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. salt

  1. Combine almonds and nutritional yeast in food processor, and process on high until very finely ground. Add lemon zest, rosemary, and salt, and pulse until rosemary is finely ground. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

per 1-Tbs. serving: 43 cal; 4g pro; 2.5g total fat (<1g sat fat); 3g carb; 0mg chol; 99mg sod; 2g fiber; <1g sugars

Peppered Brie
Serves 8

This fermented cheese recipe takes a little longer, but it’s worth the effort. In addition to a mild bite from the aging process, you’ll also get beneficial bacteria.

1 cup raw cashews

1/2 cup raw cashew butter

1/2 cup warm water

2 tsp. white miso

2 probiotics capsules

1/2 cup melted coconut oil

1 Tbs. nutritional yeast

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. truffle oil (optional)

1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

  1. Soak cashews in filtered water to cover, 3–6 hours. Drain and rinse.
  2. Combine cashews in food processor with cashew butter, warm water, miso, and contents of probiotics capsules. Purée until smooth and creamy. Transfer to glass bowl, cover with cheesecloth, and let stand in warm place, 24–48 hours, depending on desired ripeness.
  3. Transfer fermented cheese to food processor, and add melted coconut oil, nutritional yeast, and salt. Add truffle oil, if desired. Purée until creamy.
  4. Line ramekin with plastic bag, and sprinkle inside with black pepper. Pack fermented cheese tightly into ramekin, and chill 6 hours or overnight.
  5. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers or sliced pears. Refrigerate remainder for 7–10 days.

per serving: 295 cal; 6g pro; 28g total fat (14g sat fat); 10g carb; 0mg chol; 340mg sod; 1g fiber; 1g sugars

Spicy Pepper-Jack
Serves 8

This cheese alternative is lightly fermented for a more authentic flavor and texture. Experiment with using different nuts. Try almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts for some or all of the macadamia or Brazil nuts. Use more or fewer minced peppers for a milder or more potent cheese.

1 cup raw cashews

1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts

1/2 cup raw Brazil nuts

1 1/2 cups water

1 small jalapeño pepper, very finely minced

1 small Fresno pepper, very finely minced

2 probiotics capsules

1/2 cup melted coconut oil

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tsp. salt

  1. Soak nuts in filtered water to cover. Drain and rinse cashews and macadamias after 3–4 hours. Drain and rinse Brazil nuts after 8 hours.
  2. Transfer nuts to food processor. Add water and purée until creamy and smooth.
  3. Add jalapeño and Fresno peppers, and pulse to blend. Open probiotic capsules and empty contents into nut mixture. Pulse to mix.
  4. Transfer mixture to cheesecloth-lined strainer. Place strainer in shallow bowl, and let stand 24 hours. Empty liquid that accumulates in bottom. (You can keep this to make Creamy Cheese Sauce, below, or discard.)
  5. Purée fermented cheese with melted coconut oil, nutritional yeast, and salt. Serve immediately as a soft, crumbly cheese to top tacos or burritos. Or pack into small dish or ramekin lined with
    plastic; cover; and refrigerate until firm.
  6. To serve, invert dish or ramekin over plate to release cheese, and remove plastic. Serve with crackers or on sandwiches. Refrigerate remainder for up to one week.

per serving: 322 cal; 6g pro; 31g total fat (15g sat fat); 8g carb; 0mg chol; 295mg sod; 3g fiber; 2g sugars

Creamy Cheese Sauce
Serves 8

Sweet potato adds nutrition and rich creaminess to this quick sauce, and cuts the fat in half. Try making vegan nachos: layer tortilla chips with black beans, salsa, and minced jalapeños; top with sauce; and broil on low, 5–7 minutes, until heated through and bubbly.

1 small sweet potato

1 cup raw cashew butter

1 cup water

2 Tbs. nutritional yeast

1 tsp. dark miso

1/2 tsp. salt

  1. Peel, chop, and steam sweet potato in vegetable steamer. Combine cooked sweet potato with cashew butter, water, yeast, and miso in a blender. Purée until creamy and smooth. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed.
  2. To serve, heat mixture and pour over steamed broccoli or cooked macaroni, or serve as a dip with chips and salsa. Refrigerate remainder in glass jar for up to 5 days.

per serving: 206 cal; 7g pro; 16g total fat (3g sat fat); 12g carb; 0mg chol; 185mg sod; 2g fiber; 1g sugars

Our favorite book on DIY vegan cheese: The Cheesy Vegan by John Schlimm.

In addition to making your own, try Daiya Foods' great selection of vegan cheeses.

Lisa Turner is a certified food psychology coach, nutritional healer, intuitive eating consultant, and author.
She has written five books on food and nutrition and developed the Inspired Eats iPhone app. Visit her online
at inspiredeating.com.

 




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