Tag Archives: vegan cheese

Thermophilic Cashew Cheese a Go!

Today when I looked in on my two raw cashew cheeses, things did not look good. It was quite clear that some mold had gotten in there and, while not having a party yet, was clearly scoping the place out. As I was washing the mesophilic batch down the drain, I realized that the mold was a completely superficial phenomenon. In the past when I’ve attempted raw cashew cheese the bacterial colonies deployed tended to produce a very large amount of gas (carbon dioxide, I’d imagine), creating a very porous structure that could have been easily penetrated by contaminants. No so much gas in this batch. Of course, because I was flushing things down the drain, the uncontaminated portion was clearly no longer so, having just been ‘rinsed’ with mold spores.

However, this made me think that the thermophilic culture might still be viable. Keep in mind that these were in one pint yogurt containers, thus only one surface exposed to the elements. Thus I very carefully removed the upper half inch of the culture, revealing a healthy looking cashew mass underneath. Swirling it with a spoon showed that the mass had thickened. Huh. A promising sign that the cultured bacteria were still alive and working on it, since it certainly had no opportunity to dry out and previous (failed) experiments with raw cashew cheese certainly did not indicate that cashew mass will thicken on its own.

The taste was… eh… nothing to write home about. But some of the nut flavor has definitely dissipated. This too in very exciting since that indicates the possibility that if the bacteria can alter the flavor in some unexpected ways.

How to accomplish aging the cheese without having it be overrun with more mold? This is where I’m going off script. Having acquired a high thread count cheese cloth, I decided to wrap the little cheese ball in a double layer. This allows it to breath but certainly makes it impossible for it to escape. Put the wrapped ball in a pint plastic container (fresh one) and then covered the ball with kosher salt. The cheese cloth is thick enough that this coarse-ground salt is not going to make it into the cheese. However, I’m hoping that the salt will absorb any excess moisture, helping to harden the cheese, or at least help create a rind of sorts that will keep mold from growing on the surface again.

Given that this is a purely thermophilic culture, I am hoping that room temperature will be cool enough to have this process proceed in an orderly fashion.

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Raw Vegan Cheese: The Science Begins

While I’m not vegan myself, thus certainly not raw vegan, the idea fascinates me. Plus some of what I’ve seen raw vegan chefs have come up with certainly challenges assumptions about what is and is not necessary in terms of creating tasty food.

When it comes to raw vegan cheese, there seem to be two categories of recipes out there. The first, actually creates a product that can be called cheese; an example can be found here. Before you get uppity about what the term “cheese” means, consider the following: you would call a bowl of baby spinach with shredded carrots “spinach salad” and you would also call a mix of tuna, mayo, and celery “tuna salad.” If you can justify why both things desire to be called “salad” but only mammal based milk products can qualify as “cheese”… you should go to grad school. Back to the topic at hand. The second type of raw vegan cheese recipe can be found here (I feel that this is an example of why people mock raw vegans; calling it a walnut spread would keep that from happening).

There is a place in Brooklyn called Dr. Cow that makes aged raw vegan cheeses. They are pretty serious, selling nationwide, making a variety of cheeses. And this is what go my brain working. If you look at the selection, the main thing that is different is what nuts and/or seeds they are made of. Obviously, the main ingredient is going to affect the flavor, much like basic white cheese made from cow’s milk tastes quite a bit different from that made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. But when you go to the store, your mostly choosing from a wide selection of cow’s milk cheeses, each with a distinct flavor and texture profile. So what I wondered is: can a similar process be applied to nut/seed based cheeses?

And thus I placed an order with the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company for two basic types of bacteria used in cheese making: mesophilic and thermophilic. Why yes, the packets do contain lactose. And yes, I can still claim veganness here on account of lactose used as an ingredient being produced industrially by bacteria, not extracted from milk (which would be crazy expensive). The main difference between the two seems to be the temperature at which the two types like to grow (guess which one prefers higher temperatures). I’ve resisted getting ahead of myself in reading up on their other fine virtues since the two things I was interested in where:

1. Would these grow in a nut based environment? Reason to believe that they could but theory v. reality can be harsh.

2. Would there be any obvious difference in flavor produced by the two?

A secondary level of inquiry concerned which would grow better in its nutty medium in the temperature range that I have in the apartment (72-80).

With that in mind, yesterday I made a batch of cashew medium. First, cashews into food processor to make a reasonably fine, even powder. Then into the BlendTec went:

1 cup boiled and cooled to room temperature water

3 cups of cashew powder (firmly packed, like brown sugar)

Let the miracle machine do its business max speed until it stopped blending because the cashews and water formed a smooth, thick paste (going for a creamy cream cheese with this project).

Had two, clean, one pint yogurt containers ready, each filled with their respective bacteria powders (dissolved in one teaspoon of water for even distribution). Spooned out the cashew paste into each container, added about a half teaspoon of kosher salt and blended (each with a different spoon, obviously). And then both containers got sealed and went into the pantry.

What’s happening with them now?

Both cultures are alive and doing their fermenting thing (yay!). How can I tell? Both have a gentle lactic acid smell. However, it is clear that the mesophilic culture is doing better at room temperature. Much fuller aroma compared to the thermophilic culture which has but a slight hint of something other than cashews.

And so the development of both will continue at room temperature for another 24hrs. After that, one, or both, might get transferred to the fridge to continue ripening there.