Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
I always knew this kind of cheese was possible--and I know many others have been here before me--but not until I finally discovered it for myself did I really believe it.
Despite the fact that they are all made principally out of cashews, it's totally different (method, taste, and texture) from cashew goat cheese and the cashew beer cheese spread. Helped by lots of agar, this cheese is actually the consistency of a hard gouda-like cheese. I guess I'd avoided this because it seemed like it must be difficult to make something so magical. And that goat cheese I made last summer was really time-consuming and complicated. This one, though, not so much!
But I'd also avoided it because agar is expensive, at least until I get my ass to an Asian grocery that sells it instead of Whole Foods. Nevertheless, I can't imagine making a "whole" recipe (double what's below), and even with this (generous) "half" recipe, I skimped on the agar and was just fine.
This recipe pulls out all the cheesy-tasting stops: nuts, nootch, and miso. And it's eerily successful. I'm not sure I've ever eaten anything vegan that tastes so much like cheese. I also added a few things: I increased the onion powder and pepper (cayenne instead of white); I also added vegan worcestershire sauce (at the suggestion of the epicurean vegan) and liquid smoke, since I was thinking of the smoked gouda I used to like so much. For next time, I think turmeric might add some nice color.
I don't have a large food processor, so I did the first step (grinding the nuts and mixing in the dry ingredients) in my mini-processor and the later steps in a blender. This worked perfectly, but if you have a larger food processor, by all means, just use that. I was also worried about getting the finished cheese out of the mold, so I lined the bowl with plastic wrap. It certainly came out easily, but I think it probably would have done so regardless; moreover, my cheese was wrinkly because of it.
The flavor? It's spot on (and slightly spicy). The texture is a little dry and/or grainy, perhaps like reduced fat cheese? Not that I ate that stuff even when I did eat cheese... I'm wondering if you could actually smoke this cheese once it's set to get it to that smoother, chewier texture. Or perhaps it just needs to dry out a bit. You might also adjust the milk-to-oil ratio towards more oil.
Nutritionally, I think it's actually pretty close to a similar dairy cheese in terms of calories, fat, and protein. Maybe a bit less calcium and definitely more fiber... oh, and no cholesterol, of course.
Does it melt? Eh... more or less. It got really soft and mushy in the toaster oven when I heated it on top of some toast. I ate a lot of it by itself, but it was also good on crackers. Finally, I put it on a sandwich with sprouted rye bread, mashed avocado, pickles, dijon mustard, and greens. WOW.
I think you could also shred it. Yes folks, this stuff really is like cheese. Next I'm going to make a milder version that could be used in a caprese salad. Actually, that's how this all started--because I saw this.
Hard Smoked Cashew Cheese
(adapted from Epicurean Vegan)
5/8 c raw cashews
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1/2 TB onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch turmeric (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste (depends on your miso)
1 3/4 c (unsweetened) nondairy milk
scant 1/2 c agar flakes
1/4 c canola oil
2 TB light (yellow or white) miso
1 TB lemon juice
1/2 tsp vegan worcestershire
1/8 tsp liquid smoke
Instructions1. Place cashews in a large-sized bowl of the food processor (see headnotes) and finely grind–just don’t let the cashews turn to a paste. Add nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, turmeric (if using), and salt. Pulse three more times to blend in spices.
2. In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, agar flakes and oil. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Decrease heat to low-medium, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
3. With the food processor running, gradually add milk mixture to cashew mixture. Blend for 2 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Next blend in miso, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. It won’t take long for the sauce to start thickening up. Transfer to a mold.
4. Let it harden in the refrigerator for at least four few hours. Serves 8-12.