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: The HappyCow Cookbook

HappyCow Cookbook ReviewWhen I heard that HappyCow was coming out with a cookbook, I was intrigued. For years I’ve been using their website to locate vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants when I’m home and while traveling, and their app is one of the most used and appreciated apps on my phone. For finding vegan restaurants when I’m on the road, it is incredibly useful.

Like the global reach of their website, The HappyCow Cookbook features recipes from vegan restaurants all over the world. The restaurants are from across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Denmark, England, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Spain. In addition, there are interviews that precede the recipe(s) for each restaurant. They highlight the owners of the restaurants, their most popular dishes, lessons they’ve learned, and what inspired them to go vegan and/or open a vegan restaurant.

So often when I travel, I wish I could bring back a souvenir from the trip that encapsulates an experience that I had, and this book offers that. Of the restaurants listed in the book, I have been to 11 of them: Café Blossom (now Blossom on Columbus), Candle Café, Karyn’s On Green, Millennium, Native Foods, Peacefood Café, Portobello, Real Food Daily, Stuff I Eat, SunCafe Organic, and Veggie Grill. (Click on the highlighted links to read my posts on those restaurants.)

In addition to revisiting some favorites, there’s also the opportunity to learn about restaurants I may never visit and sample some of their offerings. Even without cooking from it, the cookbook would make for a fun coffee table book. So far I’ve made 3 things from restaurants I’ve visited in the past.

Bistro steak sandwich - Native Foods - from the HappyCow CookbookI started with the recipe for the Bistro Steak Sandwich from Native Foods. This sandwich is one of my favorites from Native Foods. The sandwich is a multi-layered affair with marinated seitan steak, crispy shallots (like olive rings but in shallot-form), Native bleu cheese, and oven roasted tomatoes.

With this many elements, it was no small process making all of it. Plus, I had to first make a batch of seitan from scratch. (There’s no recipe for the seitan, just the marinade. I used the white seitan recipe from Viva Vegan and added freshly ground pepper to it.)

The end result was very tasty, but required quite a bit of changes because of confusing and possibly flawed directions. My sense was that the recipe needed more testing, especially with a home cook in mind (as opposed to a restaurant’s needs). However, with some changes, I’d make this sandwich again.

In case you’re making it at home, here are my thoughts:

Native Foods seitan steak sandwich - HappyCow CookbookI made a half batch of the crispy shallots, and it was plenty for 4-6 sandwiches. It’s not clearly noted that the salt is divided into two parts of the recipe – one for soaking the shallots and one for salting afterwards.

I think there was a typo with the Native Bleu Cheese, and it should be 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, not 2 Tablespoons. The full amount of vinegar made it inedible, and I had to compensate by adding double the amount of silken tofu. Again, just a half recipe of the bleu cheese would be more than enough for a full amount of sandwiches.

For some reason, the marinade recipe calls for the reader to make double the amount of marinade necessary. Then they are told to save half of the marinade for another time. Outside of a restaurant situation where you’ll definitely make more sandwiches in the near future, it seems counterintuitive to assume a home cook would want to make more than needed, especially when it’s simple enough to make just the amount you need.

Coconut Milk Butternut Squash Soup recipe from Karyn's On Green - HappyCow CookbookNext I made Coconut-Squash Soup with Garbanzo Bean Garnish. I had this soup at Karyn’s On Green a couple of years ago. This simple recipe has just roasted butternut squash and coconut milk for the soup, and then it’s topped with garbanzo beans that have been browned in a pan and tossed with paprika, salt, and sugar.

The recipe didn’t specify the size of the butternut squash needed, and squash can vary quite a bit. It said to bake the squash for an hour and a half, but mine was totally soft and ready at an hour. After tasting the soup, I ended up doubling the amount of squash, because it just tasted like coconut milk. So I’d recommend using large butternut squash for this recipe.

Because there weren’t any spices in the soup or onions or garlic, I found it to be quite bland. If I were to make this recipe again, I would definitely start by sautéing onions and garlic, and I’d add some spices like cumin, coriander, paprika, or curry powder.

Seitan marsala recipe from Cafe Blossom - HappyCow CookbookFinally, last night I made the Seitan Marsala from Café Blossom in NYC. I visited the restaurant last month, and it was one of the highlights of my trip from a food perspective. This is one of their most popular dishes; although, I’ve never tried it at their restaurant. The recipe calls for seitan filets, but there’s no recipe for the actual seitan. So I made a batch of the chicken-style seitan from Vegan Diner, which is one of my favorite seitan recipes, and cut large pieces from it for the filets.

This dish involves a layer of mashed potatoes, a bed of kale, and seitan that has been cooked with fennel, mushrooms, and shallots in a wine sauce. Since this recipe calls for 2 different kinds of wine, Marsala and port, it was definitely one of the pricier dishes to make.

Seitan marsala - HappyCow CookbookThe recipe is supposed to serve 4-6; however, I made a half amount of the recipe, and it was easily enough for four. There was a lot of liquid that was supposed to reduce in the pan, but after doubling the amount of time it was supposed to reduce, all of the ingredients were still swimming in it. So I removed about a cup of liquid from the pan. Then I took a little bit of the liquid, made a slurry with a tablespoon of flour, and put it into the pan to help it thicken.

The building blocks of this dish tasted good – the mashed potatoes, the seitan filets, the kale, fennel, shallots, and mushrooms. However, the flavor of the sauce was overpowering; it was both bitter and sweet all at once. Perhaps if I had purchased a different variety of marsala or port I would have liked it more. Since those flavors were the most prominent, they covered everything in their path and made it impossible to taste the mushrooms and fennel underneath. As it was, I don’t think I’d make this recipe again. It was too expensive and time consuming for the end result.

Seitan Marsala from Cafe Blossom in the HappyCow CookbookFinal thoughts: Because there were so many contributors in this book and because the recipes are from restaurants that need to cook in bulk, I think the recipes could have used some tweaking for a home cook. For example, there’s a recipe for Chia Pudding from Luna’s Living Kitchen, and the recipe makes enough to serve 7, and the first ingredient is 25 dates. It is more helpful for cookbook recipes to make enough for an even amount of people, so that the recipe can easily be divided. I don’t know who is making chia pudding for 7, but it seems more like the kind of thing a person would make for herself/himself for breakfast or maybe for one another person.

There are also instances where specificity could be improved, like in the size of the butternut squash in the soup recipe above, or in the seitan marsala recipe when it called for kale, but never noted to remove the leaves from the rib or chop them. It simply said to sauté three bunches with olive oil and garlic.

Finally, it would be handy if there was an index by ingredient, as opposed to just the name of the dish and by location. When trying to find a dish, it makes it easier than trying to remember the very specific name or restaurant.

Want to see more? Kelly at easyvegan.info has made quite a bit from the HappyCow Cookbook and wrote a lengthy and helpful post with pictures on her blog. 

Disclaimer: I received this cookbook from the publisher, BenBella Books.  The thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.