2013 was many things. Good things and sad things and changing things and loving things and geeze, this year had lots and lots of feelings. It was also a year of making and doing, of moving and shaking and creeping and crashing. Undoubtedly, a very creative year. I will write about all of this soon – about the peaks and valleys, and all about the painful and passionate adventure that 2013 turned out to be.
What can I say about vegan cheese making? It sure has come a long way since I first started doing it, 4 or 5 years ago. Back then it was all The Book That Shall Not Be Named (unnamed out of respect, because that book did serve us well for so many years, when it was all we had and before we figured out a few important tricks), with it’s overly-mustardy mixtures, too-tangy tahini bases, and raw nut chèvres that could never quite stand up to a sharp knife . . . or even a hard cracker. Yeah, the vegan cheese-scape was a barren one indeed, until, in the summer of 2012, our little fromage-deficient lives were flipped upside down when one Miyoko Schinner exploded onto the modern vegan scene with her groundbreaking book, Artisan Vegan Cheese (aka AVC). Hello, game changer.
AVC was the first to elevate amateur vegan cheese making to artisanal levels. It’s by no means a simple process, and although the book does have a few “quick cheeses” the vast majority are time-, prep-, and energy-intensive labors of love.
Which is okay, if you’re a food geek like me and 98.7% of all the other vegans I’ve ever met, who really enjoy a good kitchen project. AVC cheeses are almost all fermented and aged, relying primarily on yogurt or rejuvelac as the culturing agent. Plain soy yogurt can be purchased at most major grocery stores, but rejuvelac will probably have to be made from scratch. It’s not a difficult endeavor (at all), but it’s lengthy and thus requires foresight. And that’s one downside to the recipes in Artisan Vegan Cheese – they’re not exactly “spur of the moment” material.
All in all, so far we’ve made five cheeses from Artisan Vegan Cheese: the Hard Gruyère, the Air-Dried Cheddar, the Sour Cream, the Air-Dried Gouda, and the Pub Cheddar With Chives. Some of them, like the gruyère, were mind-melting amazing. Others, like both of the cheddars, seemed out of balance (oily, or . . . “sweaty”?) or just texturally off (gritty, not creamy). We – that’s my man and I – also had some issues with mold and exterior texture on the aged cheeses – the cheddar and the gouda. However, all of this could have been due to user error. As with any fine craft, I’m sure that there’s a steep learning curve at the start.
2013 may be drawing to a close, but I’m not done with Artisan Vegan Cheese yet, oh not by any means. As a big proponent of fermented foods, I love that the cheeses in this book are cultured and aged and therefore teeming with beneficial probiotic bacteria. Next up on the list? Air-Dried Parmesan for pasta deliciousness, Meltable Mozzarella for pizza margherita amazingness, and Oat American Cheese (because what what??). I’m hoping that the learning curve levels out, and I’ll have better luck with more reliable results in the future. Wish me luck!
The Non-Dairy Formulary (NDF) made its quieter entrance into the vegan cheese-scape in early summer 2013, with little fanfare. Offered independently by the incredible Skye Michael Conroy (aka The Gentle Chef), The Non-Dairy Formulary is a self-published, text-only, vegan cheese makers dream come true. It’s really really amazing!
The recipes in this book are mostly soy milk-based, as opposed to AVC which mostly relies on soaked cashews and yogurt. There’s also a chapter on tofu cheeses, and a few that call for soaked cashews. But primarily the recipes start with soy milk, just like dairy cheese begin with dairy milk. I’ve found the finished NDF cheeses to be so incredibly rich and creamy, and I think the milk is why.
So far in the NDF we’ve made the Muenster, the Brie, the Sour Cream, and the Mediterranean Herbed Feta.
The Muenster was firm but creamy, perfectly sliceable. It had a bit of an unfortunate mustard tang (sooo hate tasting mustard in my vegan cheese!) but overall it was good. The Sour Cream was cashew-based and very similar to the AVC version. The Mediterranean Herbed Feta was made from tofu, and a pretty traditional preparation. The real star so far has been the Brie – seriously the best homemade vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. BEST.
There are so many recipes I want to try in The Non-Dairy Formulary, I don’t even know where I’ll start. Maybe the Crème fraîche? The Pepper Jack, or the Alpine Swiss? My man and I have already decided that 2014 will be The Year Of Gluten-Free Bread Baking, and lawd knows we’ll need some mighty fine cheese to accompany all that boule and baguette . . .
So yeah, 2014 is going to be an exploration of gluten-free vegan bread baking, and we’re pretty darn excited. (Got any good book recs?) But that doesn’t mean there won’t be time for cheese making along the way. And if these two awesome books weren’t enough to keep us busy, apparently there’s a whole new tome awaiting us – The Cheesy Vegan!
It’s hard, guys, doing this sort of down and dirty in-the-trenches research. But I’ll do it for you.
And now, my friends, I must bid you adieu. I’m thinking that this will be my last “official” post of 2013 (though I do hope to get a Love List or two in there, if I can). The truth is that I am once again in over my head – I’m teaching a teleconference for Main Street Vegan Academy this very evening, I’m booked up with VLC coaching clients, I can barely keep up with my freelance writing work, Waits is about to have a two-whole-weeks break from preschool, and to top it all off, I’m beginning a graduate program in evolutionary biology in, oh, 3 1/2 weeks. These are all good things – wonderful, exciting, incredible things! They are in fact the fruits of 2013′s [very] hard labor. It’s funny how you can spend so much time feeling like you’re just stalled out, spinning your wheels without getting anywhere . . . but then you reach the end and look back and think, “Wow! Look how far I’ve come!”
I’ve got forward momentum and I’ve got to keep it moving. These next few weeks will be pretty much madness, but I think I can do okay as long as I can stay one step ahead.
But that means no official blogging for me. I’d wanted to post a vegan/eco-friendly gift guide, but I just wasn’t able to make it happen. Then a few days ago Gena busted out this amazing post and you should go there, because she pretty much covers it all. Thanks lady!
So my friends, I will see you ’round. ‘Round the internets, ’round this blog in the comments, and maybe in a Love List or two, and before we know it, ’round about next year. All my love to all of you! Happy Holidays!!!