There are a number of vegan cheeses on the market, but they're rather expensive, & some of them contain ingredients I don't particularly like (such as hydrogenated oils & soy protein isolate). Then there are the tantalising sounding brands that aren't available in Australia, such as Daiya, Vegusto & Dr. Cow (I wish I could try them!). Anyway, I do like to make things from scratch & enjoy a challenge, so I set about making my own vegan cheese recipe that slices, grates, melts, & of course, tastes good too.
I've got the melting bit covered, as you can see from my photos below, & it's a little stretchy & oozy (perfect for toast & pizzas). However, it is a rather soft cheese - at room temperature, rather like a camembert - but you can slice it if it's well-chilled, & you can grate it if you pop it in the freezer for a couple of hours first (I keep a ziplock bag of it pre-grated in the freezer), & it spreads really well on sandwiches & crackers. It also blends easily into sauces (I made a cheese & pesto pasta sauce that was delicious!) & works great as a base for dips. I've yet to try it in mac & cheese, but I'm guessing that would be an oozy, gooey cheesefest, & you can also make cheese balls (mandatory holiday fare!), rolled in chopped nuts, herbs or spices. Although not as robust in texture as dairy cheese or some of the commercial vegan cheeses, it's still pretty versatile.
One of the things I've disliked about vegan cheese recipes I've tried, is that they're over-seasoned, especially regarding garlic, so in an effort to make mine more realistically cheese-like, I've made it mild & creamy as a starting point, to which you can add other flavours if needed. You can always add more vinegar if you like your cheese tangier, or increase the nutritional yeast or salt content. At the top of the post is a layered walnut & smoked paprika cheese I made. Once the cheese mixture was blended, I separated about half a cup & blended in some smoked paprika & walnuts, then stirred in some extra chopped walnuts. Here are some other additions I'd like to try in future:
- mustard (I'm thinking Mild English or Dijon, or some mustard powder)
- chopped chives
- crushed dried chillies or peppercorns
- a little tomato paste or chopped sundried tomatoes
- chopped green olives
I've used soy milk in my recipe, but you could use any non-dairy milk you like to make a soy-free cheese (I might experiment with cashew cream or almond milk next time). The milk might not curdle as much when you add the vinegar, but I really don't think that would matter. Just bear in mind, I have only made this recipe with soy milk so far, so I can't vouch for any modifications!
Lastly, a little word on the fat content. It is fairly rich, but it's cheese after all, & intended to be eaten in small quantities. If you want to cut back on the fat, I'd reduce the margarine content (but leave the coconut oil, as that's more integral to the texture) - it might affect the meltiness though.
I would absolutely love to hear from anyone who tries out my Magic Cheese recipe, so please leave me a comment & link if you do! Aaand, without further ado, recipe below...
Magic (Vegan!) Cheese
2 cups soy milk, divided (or non-dairy milk of choice)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 teasp agar powder
1-1/2 Tbsp cornflour (aka cornstarch - proper cornflour, not the wheat variety)
2 Tbsp chickpea flour
2 Tbsp potato starch flour (starch not potato flour, which is different)
1 Tbsp arrowroot flour
1/2 cup vegan margarine
2 Tbsp refined coconut oil (without a discernible coconut flavour)
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (aka savoury yeast flakes in Australia)
1 teasp salt
1/2 teasp hickory liquid smoke (optional)
Pour one cup of the soy milk into a small saucepan with the vinegar & let sit for a minute or so until thickened & curdled. Stir agar agar powder into 1/4 cup of the remaining milk until there are no lumps, & set aside. Whisk the cornflour, chickpea flour, potato starch & arrowroot into the remaining 3/4 cup of soy milk until smooth, & set aside. Please note: It's the blend of these particular flours that gives the cheese its texture, so it might not be a good idea to substitute them for other flours!
Stir the agar agar mixture into the soy milk & vinegar in the saucepan, & on a low heat, bring to a gentle simmer whilst stirring regularly. Make sure the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan. Whilst bringing it to a simmer, add the margarine, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, salt, & liquid smoke (if using).
Allow the mixture to simmer gently for 2-3 minutes, to allow the agar agar to dissolve, then pour in the soy milk combined with the flours. Stir continually as it thickens. Eventually the mixture will begin to come away from the edges of the saucepan, much like a roux. Don't worry if it appears gloopy, we're going to blend it!
Now's the time to taste it & see if it needs anything. Also make sure the flours have thoroughly cooked & there's no floury taste. At this stage, it really does look like a big oozy lump of melted cheese - yum!
Take the saucepan off the heat & then blend the cheese for a minute or two with a stick blender. This is an important step, so don't leave it out! Blending the mixture will help emulsify it & the cheese will become smooth & glossy, like a fondue. Pour it into a lightly oiled mold or container as soon as possible.
If it sits for too long, it can start to separate a bit, but you should have enough time to add any nuts, herbs or other flavourings before pouring it into a container. You could use some soy lecithin or xanthan gum to emulsify/stabalise it, but it's unnecessary if you work fairly quickly - it's nice to leave out any unnecessary additives.
Then you just need to chill it in the fridge - overnight is best - the more well-chilled it is, the easier it is to slice.
Makes a really big block & will keep in the fridge for about a week.