I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through a month of veganism without cheese.
I KNEW IT! And I came prepared for it.
I first tried this homemade cashew cheese about three years ago. I convinced my Chicago friends Ammie and Rebecca to have a vegan cheese party with me. We would each make a different vegan cheese and I would host a tasting party in my kitchen. It was a lot of fun—we ate and laughed and had a merry time. But what I remember most was this cashew cheese. It was delightful—surprisingly creamy, with a taste reminiscent of goat cheese but a texture that was more like ricotta. It had a little bit of an edge to it, too, the way that a good cheese does, a flavor that stops you in your tracks as you say, “Wow, that’s kind of funky!” But it’s funky in a good way, a flavor that adds interest to everything you slather it on.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is fond of saying that it’s not necessarily cheese we crave, but fat and salt. She’s got a point, but cheese, as a category of food, offers so many unique flavors. I think that’s one of the reasons we love it so much—yes, it’s the salt and fat, but it’s also the variety of tangy, funky, crazy flavors. And if you pair cheese with wine, as people have been doing since time immemorial, the flavor combinations are nearly endless. As a happy hour appetizer, cheese and bread is hard to beat—it’s satisfying but not too heavy, and it lets you linger over your wine a little longer.
I don’t think vegans should be denied the pleasure of cheese. Homemade cashew cheese is an easy way to satisfy that craving. You do need to plan ahead a bit if you want to make this for a specific event, because the cashews need to be soaked overnight, and then the cheese is aged at room temperature for 12 hours. Other than some advanced planning, this is easy kitchen work.
I like this cashew cheese so much that I’m working on a sweet version now, playing with the idea that this ricotta-like texture could swing in a different flavor direction. If it’s any good, I’ll report back. For now, enjoy the original recipe.
Homemade Cashew Cheese
From Vegetarian Times, April 2009
A word about the canola oil: the final cashew cheese can be a touch oily, and I think it might be possible to use less oil—perhaps 4-5 tbsp. instead of 6? I haven’t tried it yet myself, but it’s worth considering. Another fun idea would be to use different oils—subbing in a tablespoon or two of olive oil would add a grassy, fruity flavor to the cheese, which sounds delicious to me.
3/4 cup raw cashews
6 tbsp. canola oil (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp.)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp. tahini
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1) Put the cashews in a large glass or bowl and cover with water by a few inches. Cover and soak overnight.
2) Drain the cashews and rinse them under cold water. In a food processor, puree the cashews with the rest of the ingredients listed above. Puree for 6 minutes, scraping down the bowl of the food processor every minute or two. You really want to puree the heck out of this mixture because it’s essential for a really creamy texture.
3) Set a strainer in a large bowl, and line it with three layers of cheesecloth. Scrape the cashew mixture into the cheesecloth and fold the sides of the cheesecloth over the cashew mixture. Secure the ends with a twist tie, and let the mixture stand for 12 hours or even longer. I think I let mine go for a day, and it was fine.
4) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Untie the twist tie from the cheesecloth, and set the cashew cheese (still in its cheesecloth) on the baking sheet. Use your hands to form it into a log. I find it easiest to do this by not removing the cashew cheese from the cheesecloth but rather I just shape the log inside the cheesecloth. If you like, you can twist the ends of the cheesecloth and secure them with a twist tie, but I don’t find this necessary.
5) Bake for about 35 minutes to let the cheese set. It will still be quite soft—the final result is like a spreadable cheese that holds its shape a bit. Cool and chill.
6) Remove the log from the cheesecloth and serve. Or tuck it into a container and store covered in the fridge. This cheese seems to keep quite well for at least two weeks, which is pretty nice.
PS Yes, this is the cheese to pair with good bread (like ciabatta or a French baguette) and slices of roasted red pepper. It’s so good!