Garlic-herb cashew cheese, vegan mac and cheese; bring on the fauxmage
CBC food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal offers a few faux cheese recipes
As the demand for plant-based options grows around the world, more small businesses are popping up with faux cheeses, "meats" and other products, but producers are confused about how to accurately label them.
A small vegan cheese shop in Vancouver called Blue Heron was told by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that the word "cheese" could not be used to market its products, which aren't cheese in the traditional dairy sense, but made from nuts, coconut milk and active bacterial cultures.
In Britain, La Fauxmagerie was asked by Dairy UK to also not use the word, as they felt it was misleading to consumers.
According to Webster's dictionary, cheese is defined as 1) a food consisting of the coagulated, compressed, and usually ripened curd of milk separated from the whey, or 2) something resembling cheese in shape or consistency.
Unfortunately, the CFIA has their own definition of cheese, and while strict regulations benefit us overall — we have some of the highest-quality dairy products in the world — it can be confusing for new small producers.
While many larger brands of non-dairy (soy, cassava and tofu) cheese options have flown under the radar for years, complaints have triggered a crackdown on the use of the term.
Of course when you make it at home, you can call it anything you like — most homemade plant-based cheeses are nut-based, and often made from raw cashews, which are mild, dense, soft and higher in fat content, making them easy to puree perfectly smooth. The addition of nutritional yeast, which is available in bulk in health food stores, gives it a nutty, cheesy taste, and boosts protein and B vitamins.
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Some formulas call for white miso paste, which is made with fermented soybeans and adds a salty umami flavour that mimics cheese, and lemon zest and/or juice for added tang. Sometimes these blends are firmed up with the use of agar powder, which is made from algae and gels whatever mixture it's in, or given a stretchy, gooey texture upon cooking with tapioca starch.
Turmeric is often added to give it a yellow colour.
Most recipes call for soaking the cashews first, which isn't a big deal if you plan ahead — if you buy the raw nuts in a plastic tub, just cover them with water when you get home before putting them in the fridge — but you can jump start the process by boiling them for 10 minutes, and if you have time, letting them sit in their cooking liquid for awhile as they cool down.
Cashew cheese resembles hummus in the food processor or blender — if you want to thicken it up, spoon into a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl and refrigerate it overnight.
Garlic-herb cashew cheese
I took direction from a bunch of books and websites to make this fairly basic cashew cheese, but it's mostly inspired by the Minimalist Baker.
To turn it into pimento cheese, add a spoonful of paprika and large pinch of cayenne, a squirt of grainy mustard, a spoonful of vegannaise and ¼ cup chopped jarred pimentos, stirred in at the end so that they don't blend in completely.
2 cups raw cashews
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3-4 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1-2 tsp. miso paste
½ tsp. garlic powder (optional)
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
Chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro or dill
Place the cashews in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water; bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and let stand for about an hour. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of water, and combine the soft cashews and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or powerful blender, along with the reserved cooking water.
Blend on high until the mixture is very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings (miso, lemon, salt) as needed. Scrape the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl, tie up the ends and refrigerate all day or overnight. To serve, invert on a plate an coat with chopped herbs — the cheese will hold its shape best when well chilled, and will keep up to a week.
Vegan mac & cheese powder
Sam Turnbull, author of Fuss-free Vegan, shared this formula for a quick dry mac & cheese powder you can keep in a jar on your shelf to add to macaroni anytime you need a quick, creamy vegan mac & cheese.
Her secret ingredient, lemon pepper, is a little bit of brilliance, adding sharpness and tang to the sauce along with nutritional yeast and flour for thickening. You could also use a gluten-free blend, or about 2 Tbsp. tapioca starch, which is made with cassava root and gives cheese a stretchiness that makes it seem more cheesy — it's what she uses in her nacho cheese sauce.
¾ cup nutritional yeast
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
½ tsp. turmeric
Stir all the dry ingredients together in a jar. To make mac & "cheese", cook 1 cup dry macaroni according to the package directions (or until just tender), drain and return to the pot with ¾ cup non-dairy milk (such as soy or almond) and ¼ cup of the powdered mixture. Turn the heat back on and stir until the sauce bubbles and thickens (3-5 minutes).
Serving: Serves 4 (the dry blend makes enough for four batches).
With files from The Calgary Eyeopener