Dairy Free? You bet! Making fermented cashew “cheese”

I was advised many years ago to stay away from dairy, but it’s always been a struggle for me.  I LOVE ice-cream and cheese is in everything!  Over the past few years it’s been much easier to do with options like almond milk or coconut milk popping up as more mainstream.  While I will probably never completely give up my Dairy Queen, I had long ago given up on cheese, especially cream cheese.

Enter cashew cheese.  Cashews are an exceptionally soft and creamy nut that blend really well to add a creamy taste and texture to plant-based foods.  But cheese made from nuts?  Am I nuts?!  I guess I am!

In my exploratory journey over the past year, I took an interest in fermentation and the health benefits in fermentation for digestibility of plant products, and the beneficial bacteria involved in fermentation.  I took an online course on fermentation products by Meghan Telpner at her Academy of Culinary Nutrition.  One of the projects was a fermented nut cheese.  To my surprise, and to the surprise of everyone that I fed it to, it was super easy to do and really tasty.  Many of my friends have asked me how to make it, so it was an easy choice for my first project.

Cashews are high in magnesium, which is important in keeping calcium in your bones, where it belongs.  So even though you are not eating a calcium rich food, the magnesium that is in cashews will help maintain the calcium levels that are stored in your body.  Nuts and seeds are powerhouses that contain protein, minerals, enzymes and healthy fats.  In order to make sure the enzymes are intact and the oils are in their natural unprocessed state, choose raw unsalted nuts.  Organic is preferred as pesticides tend to be stored in fat, and with the high fat content of nuts the potential of toxins being passed on and stored in the fat in your body is much higher.

When talking about nuts and seeds, it is also essential to talk about soaking. Nuts and seeds have a natural coating on them made from phytic acid that resists digestion. When phytic acid is broken down during digestion, it binds to minerals and reduces the minerals available for absorption, particularly iron and B vitamins. The easiest way to reduce this effect, is to soak your nuts in water with a little bit of salt.  A chart of how long to soak each type of nut is found here.  After soaking, rinse your nuts in water.  I find that cashews take on a purple tinge after soaking.

Fermented Nut Cheese (this link takes you to the original recipe by Meghan Telpner of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition).

Basic fermented cheese:

1 cup cashews (soaked)

1 probiotic capsule (acidophilus, from the refrigerated section in a health food store)

3 Tbsp water

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Blend all the ingredients in a high-powered blender until completely smooth.  Be careful to do this slowly because the mixture will heat up during blending.  The first time I did this the nut mixture was steaming when I removed it, which meant the probiotics were dead.

Place the nut paste into cheesecloth or a nut milk bag so that it can breathe and form it into a ball.

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To allow fermentation to take place, you have 3 options:

  1. put the bag into a colander, and put the colander over a bowl to catch any liquid – leaving it 36 to 48 hours
  2. hang the bag (I wrapped the string around a cupboard knob), with a bowl or towel underneath to catch any liquid (again 36 to 48 hours)
  3. place in a dehydrator at the lowest setting (raw, around 100 F) for 24 hours.

After the nut mixture has had time to ferment and dry, remove it from the cloth and add your flavour.  The mixture should have a slightly sour smell due to the fermentation – this is good!  The original recipe in the link above called for dill, lemon juice and salt.  My favourite is dill, smoked garlic powder (I make my own), fresh lemon juice and salt.  For this batch, I decided to split the recipe into two different flavours.  One the garlic dill, and one with honey, cinnamon, slivered almonds, and dried blueberries.  You can see here the cashews are quite crumbly.  I flattened out the mixture too much in my dehydrator, so it dried the mixture out quite a bit and I needed to add more liquid to it.

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Once you mix everything together, roll it in some parchment paper and then cover it with plastic wrap or waxed cloth (as seen here) to “age” your cheese.  Keep it in the fridge for about 6 days before eating.

I love to eat this cheese on rice crackers, cucumber slices or celery sticks.  The cinnamon version was an experiment for me this time and I’m not sure how it will turn out.  Stay tuned for the final result!  I’ll update the post once I’m done aging the cheese.

Update February 19:

Here’s the end results:

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My standby favourite with the smoked garlic and dill was fabulous as usual, and quite savoury.  The sweet honey cinnamon blueberry almond was tasty, but next time, I will use about 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon and omit the almonds and blueberries.  The cinnamon was too strong and the texture with the almonds was too crumbly.  It’s still quite edible though!

To store the finished product, remove the parchment paper and just wrap in plastic or store in an airtight container.

How did it work for you?  What flavour mixes did you try?  Drop me a line and let me know!

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