Miyoko’s Kitchen: Nut-Based Vegan Cheeses

Miyoko's Kitchen: Vegan cheesesA curious thing happened one day last week. I arrived at the grocery store and noticed that David had added to our shared grocery list with all of the usual suspects for one of our nibbly nights. On the list – crackers, cornichons, dolmas, grapes, and a bottle of wine. I picked up the items in question and arrived home to see the star of the evening waiting on the doorstep.

Unbeknownst to me, David had ordered the Traditional Collection of cheeses from Miyoko’s Kitchen as a wonderful surprise. Miyoko Schinner is the goddess of vegan cheeses, and her book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, is beloved in our house as well as in the houses of so many other vegans. I’ve made several cheeses from the book, but I still haven’t made any of the slow aged variety, because I’ve been intimidated by the waiting time. Instead I’ve gone for cheeses with more instant gratification (or at least within a few days or so).

I have tried some of the more labor-intensive cheeses, though. Miyoko made some of her nut-based cheeses for the Vida Vegan Con gala last year. The platter was very well loved by the time I got there with just bits and pieces left.

Miyoko's Kitchen: Vegan cheeses made from nutsSince that time Miyoko has opened a cheese-making facility of her own based out of Fairfax, California.   At some point in the future, the facility will house a retail store with their own cheeses and a variety of other artisanal vegan products. They also plan on hosting events, including cooking demonstrations and movie nights. (So fun!)

However, for right now their cheeses are just beginning to show up in stores. Currently their products are available at Good Earth in Fairfax and Republic of V in Berkeley, California. Starting in November, they’ll be available in natural food stores (like Whole Foods) in Northern California. From there, they’ll branch out to smaller stores and restaurants. For the rest of us in the United States, Miyoko’s cheeses are now available online. (At this time, they’re not shipping out of the U.S.)

The Traditional Collection that David ordered included three cheeses: Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, Aged English Smoked Farmhouse, and High Sierra Rustic Alpine. However, only two cheeses were in the box – both varieties of the Farmhouse cheeses. Since the cheeses require aging and the demand has been high, there was more interest than there was supply on some of the cheeses that take time to age properly. So they ran out of the alpine. In exchange, they took that amount off of our total and gave us a coupon to use towards a future shipment, which is great because I’m very excited about ordering more.

Miyoko's Kitchen: Nut-based vegan cheesesWith crackers and other nibblies laid out, I unwrapped the cheeses. They are in sweet, well-designed boxes, and the cheeses themselves are in glossy wax paper, wrapped up like presents with a seal. It felt like Christmas unwrapping the neatly folded packages.

The first thing I noticed was the size of the cheeses. I was afraid they might be small like the Doctor Cow cheeses, which come in at 2.6 ounces. (I think the Doctor Cow cheeses are very tasty, but at $10.99 for a small round of it, it doesn’t last long.) However, the cheeses from Miyoko were 6.5 ounces, which is considerably larger. There was plenty for our dinner that evening, along with enough for a European-style breakfast a couple days later with cheese, crackers, and fruit. After some additional random snacking, there’s now the tiniest wedge of cheese left.

Vegan cheeses from Miyoko's KitchenAnd how did they taste? Heavenly. Both of the cheeses had very strong, sharp flavors that were tangy and exploded on the tongue. In the same way that dark chocolate has a much bolder flavor than milk chocolate, I loved how these cheeses had the same dominating pop of flavor. I was satisfied with less cheese on the cracker, because each sliver had so much richness of taste.

The Aged English Sharp Farmhouse is vaguely reminiscent of a sharp cheddar.  There is also a bit of nutritional yeast taste to it. (That is totally good by me. I love nutritional yeast.) The cheese is firm but still spreadable, and I loved the crackly dry exterior of it. The ingredients are simple: organic cashews, water, organic chickpea miso, nutritional yeast, sea salt, and cultures.

Vegan cheeses made from nuts - Miyoko's KitchenThe Aged English Smoked Farmhouse had a dominating smoky flavor that reminded me of the smoked cheeses I used to enjoy in my vegetarian days. Because of the smokiness, it was less neutral than the Sharp Farmhouse. I am a big fan of smoky flavors, and especially in the fall and winter, there’s something very warming about those tastes. It had a lovely bite to it that was noticeable but not overwhelming. The ingredients were the same as for the Sharp Farmhouse.

What to try next? The ones I’m most interested in ordering next time are the Double Cream Chive, which has been receiving raves all over the internet, the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf, because it looks so beautiful and eating the leaf is part of the taste experience, and the Limited Edition Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash, because it looks so unique and eye-catching. However, I have a strong feeling that whatever I order, I won’t be able to make a wrong decision. Just from this one go, I can already say that Miyoko’s cheeses are easily my favorite vegan cheeses on the market.

Review: Artisan Vegan Cheese

Artisan Vegan Cheese & cheeseboard

I still remember being seven or eight and standing in Kmart looking over a tall stack of dolls in boxes.  I was looking for the perfect gift for a birthday party I was attending the next day when my mom gave me this advice:  Give a gift that you would want yourself.  (Perhaps that’s why my Dad gave me a buzz saw for my birthday that year.  I kid, I kid.  It was for Christmas.)

While it may be good advice, it can be much harder to give a gift away when it’s something you’d like to keep for yourself!  I remembered this nugget of wisdom when I was deciding on what to get a friend of mine who is also vegan.  I’d read so many glowing reviews across the blogosphere about Artisan Vegan Cheese (from Kittee, Andrea, Tami, and so many more).  So I decided to pair the book with a cheeseboard and to-do list (to remember to pick up cashews, soy yogurt, and carageenan).  Once it was wrapped and ready to go, it was the kind of gift I would want to open.

Luckily I didn’t have to question whether or not I’d like to keep the present for myself since I had a brand spanking new copy of Artisan Vegan Cheese in my cookbook cupboard I’d already purchased for myself.  I’ll admit I’d been a bit intimidated by what sounded like a drawn out process of soaking and sprouting in the making of the cheeses, and so I decided to start with a couple that didn’t require much in the way of planning ahead.

cashew cream cheese and marmaladeI started with the Cashew Cream Cheese, which is made with cashews that have been soaked for eight hours and drained.  It’s then cultured with plain, nondairy yogurt and left at room temperature for 24-48 hours, depending on how sharp one prefers one’s cheese.  I let the cream cheese culture for 48 hours until it had developed a good, tangy bite.

I used the cream cheese on crackers with lemon and rose petal marmalade, as I wrote about a while back.

cashew cream cheese on tacosMy favorite way to use it has been on tacos or burritos like a non-dairy sour cream.  It has the same tanginess about it and adds a cooling addition to spicy tacos.

My husband’s favorite use of the cream cheese is by making a simple blueberry cream cheese and spreading it on bagels.  I just added about one-quarter to one-half cup of cream cheese with a couple handfuls of blueberries in a food processor and blended.  I look forward to trying it out with strawberries and raspberries in the future!

The cream cheese continues to sharpen over time in the refrigerator, but for us, it seems like it just gets better and better.  It will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator or in the freezer for four months.

easy cheesy sauce nachosNext I made the Easy Cheesy Sauce, which required no planning at all since I went with the option of not culturing the cashew cream.  (It can be made either way.  Culturing the sauce gives it more depth.)  It just involved blending raw cashews with water in a blender, transferring it to a saucepan, and adding nutritional yeast flakes and lemon juice.  (For a stretchier consistency, xanthan gum can be added, but I skipped that part.)

nachos in cheesy sauceThe cheese sauce has a cheesy, neutral flavor that would be quite good over pasta or steamed vegetables.  Instead, I wanted to use it for a nacho platter.  So I added cumin, paprika, and chili powder to the sauce and poured it over tortilla chips.  I then topped it with spicy black beans, tomatoes, avocado, and jalapeno peppers for a cozy movie night.

making rejuvelacFinally, I felt ready to dive into one of the more involved recipes that required rejuvelac.  Rejuvelac is a fermented culturing agent filled with probiotics.   It can be found commercially in some natural food stores; although, I couldn’t find it in my area.  Luckily, it isn’t hard to make your own.  It simply involves soaking and sprouting grains (or seeds in the case of quinoa) in a jar, culturing it with fresh water, and then waiting a few days until the water is tart like lemon juice.

The cookbook author, Miyoko Schinner, is very active and helpful on the Post Punk Kitchen forum, and so if you want to study up before you begin or if you’re having troubles, she’s been incredibly helpful.  I’d read on the PPK forum that the easiest starter for making rejuvelac is quinoa and so I went with that.  Sure enough, the quinoa began sprouting tails overnight.  I replaced the water and had rejuvelac about three days later.

I used the rejuvelac to make basic cashew cheese, which is a neutral cheese with a texture like cream cheese.  It’s used as a base for several recipes, including Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese, which used one whole batch of the basic cashew cheese.

I make notes in all of my cookbooks, so that I know which recipes I liked and didn’t and what I’d tweak in the future.  I’d like to share with you the words that I wrote at the top of the Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese page:

cookbook entryThis garlicky, spreadable cheese tastes like a creamy bruschetta.  It’s delicious on crackers or spread onto collard leaves and rolled up with bell pepper and tomato slices.  Sprouts or pea shoots would have also been a tasty addition.

sun-dried tomato and basil cheese in a collard leafThe cheeses freeze well, and so I put the Cream Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese into several separate glass containers.  I put one apiece in the refrigerator to enjoy right away, and I put the remaining ones in the freezer for future use.

frozen cheeses(As you can see, I just wrote on the glass with a permanent marker the name of the cheese and the date that I made it.  It will keep for up to four months in the freezer.  Then the permanent marker writing can be easily scrubbed off the glass with a scratch pad, soap, and water.)

I look forward to exploring more from Artisan Vegan Cheese.  Although some of the recipes do involve advance planning, it really requires very little time on task.  Most of it is just waiting for the fermentation and culturing to happen.  There’s a reason it’s called “Artisan” Vegan Cheese, and it’s because it requires more patience.

I look forward to filling my freezer with more cheeses, so that I can pop out a variety for gatherings and get-togethers with no fuss.  Or when I suddenly happen upon a recipe that requires just a tablespoon of vegan cream cheese (as happened to me this past weekend), I just have to thaw a small container from the freezer.  If you too enjoy feeling like a kitchen scientist, this is the book for you!

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