I feel like I talk about my childhood a lot on this blog. The reason for this is that most of my deeply-held food cravings stem from happy childhood experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve discovered some great new tastes in adulthood — like kombucha, for example — but for some reason, I don’t think I could ever go too long without having the need to eat something that reminds me of the great food I had growing up. Many of you, I’m sure, have similar food cravings, the kind that don’t even completely make sense, but you just need that food right now for… the warm fuzzies.
Sadly, I went without my favorite foods for many years. You see, as a child, I was basically a dairy addict. I loved adding a big dollop of sour cream on top of pretty much any and all savory dishes. Cream cheese, cottage cheese — you name it. My brother and sister and I even snuck out of our rooms at night to steal pieces of cheese from the fridge. We would eat them behind the couch. But that’s beside the point. After I eliminated dairy from my diet — both because eating it makes me feel sick and because I wanted to stop eating animal products — there was kind of a big hole in my life. I moved on, I tried not to think about cheese and cream. I tried the substitutes at the grocery stores and was somewhat satisfied. But they were always so expensive and even the best just tasted a little lackluster.
Enter Miyoko Schinner. For my birthday last year, my husband gave me Schinner’s book “Artisan Vegan Cheese.”In the time since then, I feel like my life has been changed. This is truly an incredible book. So far, I’ve tried 8 of the recipes — several of them a number of times — and been very impressed. Out of those 8, only one was a failure. And it wasn’t even a true failure because even though it wouldn’t firm up, it made a delicious cheese sauce. And I’ve seen several Amazon reviewers rave about that specific recipe, so it’s probable that I just did something wrong while making it.
My absolute favorite recipe in this book is the brie. To me, the cost of the whole book would be worth it for just this one recipe. I think it’s the best recipe for the following reasons:
- It doesn’t require any special additives such as carrageenan or agar powder
- Though it takes some prep work over several days, it’s easy to make
- There’s nothing like it commercially available at an affordable price.
- It’s so fancy
The brie tasted delicious. It was what I’d been missing that Daiya and other brands simply didn’t have: a cheese that was so good you wanted to eat it plain or just with crackers. Sure, I had commercial vegan cheeses that I could use for a grilled cheese sandwich just fine. But until recently, I’d never seen a fancy vegan cheese like this at a grocery store (and the one I saw recently deterred me with its huge price tag).
And what did my cheese-loving friends have to say about it? They loved it. They had one of those moments that looked like it was off the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercials. Except cheese. The harshest criticism it got was that “It didn’t taste exactly like brie, but it did definitely taste like a fine cheese.” That’s because the cheese was brie-like in that it was rich, flavorful and delicious, but didn’t have the characteristic mold, etc., that people would expect from brie. But honestly I’d rather not try to grow mold at home, thank you. Most of all, people were just stunned that a cheese that good, let alone a vegan cheese, was possible to make at home in a few easy steps.
My sister’s favorite food is cheesecake. She loved my vegan cheesecake. I feel successful in life now.
First, I made the cream cheese, which I honestly didn’t like on its own, but that was probably because I didn’t blend it well enough so it was a little grainy. And no one wants that. But when I put it in my food processor with the other cheesecake ingredients, it got creamy and perfect, so my initial blunder didn’t really matter. I did toy with this recipe a little, because it kept not tasting sweet enough. That could be because I used coconut sugar instead of regular sugar, so I’m not blaming it on the recipe. I also used a flaxseed mixture instead of the egg replacer powder. I was a little worried that my modifications would ruin it, but the cheesecake turned out perfect! My sister and I ate slice after slice together, and then we shared the leftovers with some other friends and family. It was a major dessert success.
American Oat Cheese
This cheese could not be more dissimilar to the brie, but I loved it nonetheless. My reasons for enjoying it so much were that it was quick and easy to make, and also very healthy and can be much lower in fat than the other cheeses. I mean, cheese made out of oats? How healthy can it get? As far as the taste, it works great as a processed cheese substitute. Will it be great on crackers? Eh, not so much. Is it perfect for nachos and grilled cheese? Definitely. It’s way cheaper than buying a commercially available vegan cheese, and I liked it better than those I have tried. After making this cheese several times, I adapted the flavor somewhat to suit my personal taste. I’m not sure if there was something unusual about the miso I used, but I disliked the flavor that miso gave to the cheese, so I began omitting it. I also made several other adaptations to the original recipe and will include my version in a future post.
Cashew Tofu Ricotta
There are no words to describe how happy this recipe made me. I’ve made tofu ricotta many, many times, but the addition of cashews added worlds to the texture. I also tweaked this recipe, adding much more seasoning than called for. This made a wicked good lasagna.
I made a modified version of this because I wanted a cheddar-y cheese but didn’t want to wait for it to culture. So I added some extra seasoning to the muenster recipe to make it taste like a smoked nacho cheese. It was great, but since discovering the oat cheese, I’ve been sticking with that because it seems healthier and is lower in fat.
I also made yogurt and, as mentioned earlier, cream cheese using the recipes in this book and wasn’t particularly wowed by either. I plan on making another attempt at these, though, to see if I can get them to a point where I’d want to eat them on their own and not just use them as ingredients in other recipes. My only big failure was the air-dried camembert, which just never firmed up into a cheese-like texture. I’m not sure what went wrong, as I followed the recipe exactly. My current theory is that perhaps I cooked it on too low a heat. I plan on trying that one again soon, so I’ll keep you posted! I’m dying to make baked brie, so I’ll probably try to keep making this cheese until I succeed!
So yes, overall, I highly recommend this book! I didn’t want to share Schinner’s recipes publicly, but I will share any versions that I adapt or any recipes that I come up with in my newfound endless cheese experimentations.