Monday, November 10, 2014

Vegan Cheddar with Chives

Christy Grecsek
A lot of folks are vegan because they don't want to eat animal products and others can't eat dairy products because of allergies and stomach problems.  No matter what the reason, there is virtually nobody who wants to go without the taste of cheese in their diet! 

Christy Grecsek lives near us and recently, she and our Cheese Queen, Ricki had a discussion about the trials and tribulations of being vegan.  Christy said she had a good recipe for vegan cheese and Ricki asked her to send us the recipe.  She did, and for that we are extremely grateful.

By way of introduction, and in her own words, "Christine Grecsek works in non-profit arts administration, and by night is a writer, with a penchant for singing, dancing, cooking and the outdoors. She and her family, both feline and human, live in the Connecticut River Valley of gorgeous western Massachusetts."

Making Vegan Cheese
By Christine Grecsek

Vegan cheese?

Isn't that an oxymoron, one of those phrases that contradicts itself, like "jumbo shrimp?"

Well, actually - no. As it turns out, you do not need to use milk (cow, sheep, goat, water buffalo or other) to make your very own cheese!

I can almost hear the diehards saying, "Why bother?" But the truth is that there is a wide population who cannot or do not consume dairy milk.

I'm a prime example. Once upon a time, I blithely ate all sorts of dairy products, including delectable cheeses (Smoked Gouda, I'm thinking about YOU.)

Then, several years ago, my body informed me unequivocally (I'll spare you the particulars here), that it would no longer tolerate any kind of dairy. Shocked by this sudden mutiny, I mentioned this astounding turn of events to a doctor friend. Her response:  "Yeah, that happens sometimes."
What the heck…? I wish someone would have told me this so I could have savored that last creamy bit of brie en croute, melty with homemade jam. Sigh.

So it was bye-bye butter, so long sour cream and goodbye Gouda.

Fortunately, many stores (thank you!) now carry dairy-free cheeses. As with anything, I found that some are decidedly better than others.

Then, through the magic of the internet, I came across the notion of making your own vegan cheese, at home. A lifelong kitchen experimenter, I jumped at the chance to give it a go.

Awash in aspirations, I bought Miyoko Schinner's book "Artisan Vegan Cheese" and went ingredient shopping. Bags of cashews, nutritional yeast, carrageenan, agar powder and tapioca flour later, I was ready to begin.

I studied the many recipes as if there were going to be final exam, and I have to admit - I got pretty darn excited. Finally I settled on Pub Cheddar with Chives.

True confession (shhh, don't tell America or Germany) - I don't actually like beer. I figure if it didn't happen in my college years, I'm highly unlikely to become a convert now. However, beer is almost always a good ingredient in soup, cake (yes, cake) and, conveniently, cheese spreads.  So this recipe sounded very promising indeed.

In addition, while autumn is becoming impolitely insistent, we still haven't had a killing frost here, and our garden chives are thriving.

I decided that this recipe would be my fromage homage to the last loveliness of summer.

Phase I - The Soaking

First things first - It's all about cashews as the base for the cheddar.

A nice long soak softens the nuts for the cheese-to-come.

They got tucked in and rested for about 8 hours, which is probably more rest than I average per night.

Phase II - The Mixing

Everything, including the well-rested cashews, is gathered for Phase II.

That mason jar on the right contains rejuvelac - more on that in just a moment.

Rejuvelac is basically the liquid from slightly fermented sprouted grains, which doesn't necessarily sound that delectable, but, honestly, neither does rennet.

The book provides a recipe for making rejuvelac, which I would have done and documented here for you. However, I have the good fortune of having a member of my household (henceforth known as The Rejuvelator,) who seriously enjoys both sprouting and fermenting and kindly whipped me up a batch.

Once made, it keeps well in the fridge for a good while.

Adding ingredients for their whiz around the food processor.

A caveat: I do not pretend to be a photographer. I'm sure you could tell.

Did I mention that I don't own a camera?

I borrowed one from The Rejuvelator, who is rather handy to have around.

The ingredients, post-whiz.

While you look at these photos, you may be thinking, "Hey, she did say she's not a photographer, but I wonder what the heck she did wrong to make her counters look so weirdly pink?"

Well, we can't blame that on my photography skill set, or lack thereof.

These counters came like this, straight out of 1960-something. I still haven't found the right name for this exact shade of pink.

It's not quite salmon or peach or mango or even watermelon.

I'm open to suggestions.

Either way, I live with a vast expanse of it every day. It even goes up the walls.

However, since the magazines tell me that everything retro is chic again, it's just about back in fashion now, so I chose to call it "Mid-Century Modern."

Frankly, my entire kitchen is "Mid-Century Modern."

Final step of Phase II - The cheese-to-be is tucked away again to rest a few days at room temperature.

It feels wrong, but do not refrigerate it!

Seriously.  Leave it on the counter.

Phase III - The Beering and Chiving

You can't get chives any fresher than this.

This one even decided to go for a late-season bloom.
I just love flowers.

The chives, ready for a good chopping.

Chives all snipped and ready, along with everything else, for the final steps.

A saucepan of beer and carrageenan.

No, I'm pretty sure you won't find this at Happy Hour.

The beer and carrageenan as it thickens over medium-high heat.
It made satisfying crackly bubble noises.

Adding the cheese mixture from Phase II to the thickened beer.

Okay, so maybe "thickened beer" isn't the most delicious-sounding  description, but that's what it is.

Don't forget those chives!

All ready for some R&R: Rest and Refrigeration.

I'll have to find someone to drink the rest of that beer.

I think The Husband will probably manage.

Phase IV - The Tasting

Back in the garden for edible garnishes. 

These nasturtiums mass over the stone wall in the most delightful way. 

Did I mention I love flowers?

Pub Cheddar with Chives - Ready for cutting!

Note the nifty "peace pumpkin" I won at the local garlic festival. The symbol was inscribed into the squash's skin so it actually grows like that.

Think of the pumpkin possibilities for next year!

Even in the world of dairy cheese there are huge differences of opinions about taste. One person's delightfully crumbly bleu is another's lump of moldy ick.

(Can you tell I was never a fan of bleu?)

Therefore, I don't see my role here necessarily to review the recipe, but rather to demonstrate that it can be done.

You can make vegan cheese!

(That said, The Pub Cheddar with Chives got the blessing of The Husband, The Rejuvelator and The Cheese Queen.)

I had a lovely wedge of it for lunch with happy little crackers.

So - Vegan Cheese:

Make it for yourself, make it for the lactose-intolerant people you love or the vegan in your life.

Make it as a conversation piece, make it for fun or to widen your repertoire of homemade accomplishments.

I'm already perusing the book, trying to decide which recipe I'll try next.

Fair warning, Gouda, I've got my eye on you on page twenty-eight.  I'm fairly certain I can find a way to make you smoky!