The popularity of vegan cheese and other non-dairy products are certainly on the rise in Australia, and as far as cheeseboards go, vegan cheeses can be a tasty, ethical and nutritious alternative. “It’s worth noting that vegan cheese should not be compared to regular cheese,” says Kate Levins of Nourishing Club, a platform and club for sharing plant-based recipes. “However, it can come pretty close in terms of a deep, salty, umami flavour and mouthfeel.”
Plus, as Levins confirms, vegan cheese is relatively easy to make at home. “The simplest way to make vegan cheese is by soaking a nut/seed of your choice and blending it with a small amount of water, nutritional yeast and salt,” she says. “Nutritional yeast is a cultured and deactivated (non-living) yeast obtained from beetroots or sugarcane. The biggest challenge that surrounds vegan cheese making is time and patience! Fermentation is an act of science – so you must be prepared for your attempt to fail and you really cannot rush the process.”
Here, we get the lowdown on three essential vegan cheeses that you'll want to pop on your cheeseboard and of course are best enjoyed with friends.
1. The cream cheese – vegan feta
One of the easiest vegan cheeses to make at home, feta cheese is a great place to start when planning out your DIY platter.
“You can make cream cheese simply by soaking sunflower seeds in water for 6 hours, and blending the soaked seeds with nutritional yeast, lemon juice, sea salt and fresh water,” says Levins. “This yields a cream cheese consistency that can be enjoyed as a spread or as a dip with vegetable crudités.”
From there, herbs can be added to create distinct flavour profiles, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives and black pepper. Melbourne-based dairy-free cheese company, Damona offers a baked almond feta – an ideal addition to a cheeseboard. “It’s best served in a bowl as it comes marinated in oil,” says owner Martin Soerensen. “If you’re making it at home, use tofu, blended nuts and then culture it.”
2. The hard cheese – vegan cheddar
A cheeseboard isn’t complete without at least one hard cheese – one that requires a cheese knife. Achieving vegan cheddar is as simple as adding a setting agent to a trusted recipe. “I like to use agar-agar, which is a type of seaweed,” says Levins. “You can buy agar-agar in a powdered form that you simply mix with hot water to activate. It becomes thick, and acts as the glue that transforms your cream cheese into a sliceable cheddar.” Enjoy cheddar with green olives, or a slightly sweetened fruit paste.
Want to achieve that classic "cheese" colour? Simple just add yellow spices, such as turmeric.
3. The soft cheese – vegan brie
Vegan or not, there’s no denying the power of a good wheel of brie to tie together a cheeseboard. The holy grail of soft cheeses is often what makes veganism seem so challenging in the first place. Luckily, there’s a stellar vegan alternative.
“The recipe for vegan brie-style cheese includes the same ingredients as cream cheese, however, I like to replace half of the salt with miso paste, which lends a fermented umami quality to your nut/seed base,” Levins says. “To emulate this style of cheese, you also need to use a little less water. To achieve a brie-like crust, I form this mixture into a circle shape on a piece of grease-proof baking paper and place it into a dehydrator for about 10 hours at 50°C. The result is a chewy ‘crust’ with a creamy cheese interior.”
This maple nut "cheese" cake is my favourite dessert at the moment and I wonder if I will ever tire of it. The ground soaked nuts provide texture for the base and creaminess for the filling, meaning this dessert is also gluten, lactose and egg free. The soaking liquid from the nuts is full of nutrients so don’t throw it away. Either drink it yourself or give your plants a little drink.
Lead image from Damona Divine Cow.
Feeling inspired? Check out our vegan collection with over 300 recipes, right here. This week Gourmet Farmer shares the excitement behind cheesemaking. Check out the program page for recipes and to find out more about the show. Return to the Gourmet Farmer homepage.
I love preparing a simple salad that’s built around lightly toasted pearl couscous.