Yes, You Can Make Your Own Vegan Cheese at Home
Nothing raises eyebrows quite like the concept of vegan cheese. Which is understandable, given the somewhat sketchy history of plant-based alternatives to dairy products.
When the first rudimentary forms of vegan cheese hit the market, they weren’t the most desirable of creations. In fact, it was a little like chowing down on a gigantic eraser - though that’s probably an affront to the superior flavour of the average stationery supply!
Mercifully, things have come a seriously long way over the years and decades. Not only is the best vegan cheese available today absolutely delicious, but it can also replicate the flavour of countless popular types of cheese with surprising accuracy.
But what about knocking together your own vegan cheese at home? If you’d prefer not to shell out for the commercially available products, is it really plausible to make DIY vegan cheese?
More importantly, does homemade vegan cheese taste good enough to be worth bothering with?
The Benefits of Making Your Own Vegan Cheese
In answer to the first of these questions, yes - making vegan cheese at home is way easier than you might think. As for the second, the answer is also yes - DIY vegan cheese can be delicious beyond your wildest expectations.
As is the case with most things, there’s something so deeply satisfying about making your own that you’re practically guaranteed to enjoy it more. The fact that it’s relatively easy to knock together is an added bonus, but the way in which vegan cheesemaking opens the door to experimentation is where the real joy lies.
Here are just a few of the reasons why making your own vegan cheese at home is something you will not regret:
- Irrespective of how fantastic they may be, most vegan cheeses available from stores are not what you could call fresh. They contain preservatives and have probably been sitting in their wrappers for a good few weeks at least.
- When you make your own vegan cheese, you know exactly what goes into it. If you’re conscious about the foods you eat and the additives that go into the products you purchase, making your own really is a no-brainer.
- Some of the best artisan vegan cheeses on the market pack a punch not only on flavour, but also in the price department. If you insist on only the best, making your own vegan cheese could save you a small fortune.
- Once you’re familiar with how the whole thing works, you won’t believe how easy it is. It also doesn’t take a great deal of time, unless you’re planning to mature any of the cheeses you make long-term.
Still not convinced? You will be when you see the simple list of ingredients that go into homemade vegan cheese, and the simplicity of the recipe itself.
The Products You Will Need to Make Your Own Vegan Cheese
Time to start writing that shopping list, which believe it or not only extends to half a dozen basic supplies. Some of which you will already have lying around in your kitchen - the rest you’ll have no trouble tracking down and picking up for next to nothing:
- Coconut Milk. Of all the various formulas you can try out to make vegan cheese, none perform better than those based on full-fat coconut milk. Some prefer soaked and blended cashews, but the resulting cheese isn’t quite as creamy or sumptuous.
- Agar Agar Powder. This is essential for giving the cheese its firmness and creating your preferred consistency. There are alternative forms of vegan gelatine available that can also work, but this stuff almost always produces the best results.
- Salt. To be added for flavour to your own personal tastes, but needs to be added nonetheless to give your cheese the closest flavour to the real thing.
- Nutritional Yeast. Easy to track down and cheap to buy, this stuff has a distinctive cheesy flavour and a delicious savoury quality. It’s also what makes vegan cheese taste like cheese, so you can’t get by without it.
- Lemon Juice. If you want to give your vegan cheese a little sharpness and bite, you will need to add a small amount of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
- Water. The stuff from the tap is just fine, adding essential moisture to the mixture.
- Tapioca Flour. This is the magic ingredient that enables you to create a cheese substitute that melts, strings and stretches like the real stuff. Though you’ll only need to add this if planning on making a meltable vegan cheese, otherwise it won’t be necessary.
One quick note at this stage - always use agar agar powder as opposed to flakes, which produces a superior result and is much easier to measure accurately. If the cheese you make comes out with a jelly-like texture you’re not happy with, it’s most likely that the agar agar you bought was not strong enough.
All agar agar powders are not of the same strength or quality, so be sure to shop around for something decent.
Making Vegan Cheese from Coconut Milk
There are two types of vegan cheese you can make using coconut milk.
One of them is a firm type of cheese, which is perfect for slicing and putting in sandwiches, or simply eating in chunks. The second is a version you can melt, which is absolutely fantastic in toasted sandwiches, sprinkled on pizzas and loaded into jacket potatoes.
Both are just as easy to try out at home, so why not give both a go?
The ingredients in both instances are identical:
- 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk full fat
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons agar agar powder (or 6 tablespoons of flakes if you can't find powdered agar agar)
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoons garlic powder
Firm Vegan Cheese for Slicing
- Take an appropriately sized pan and add all of the ingredients, before giving them a good mix to blend completely.
- Heat the pan on a medium setting until it reaches a very gentle boil, at which point you will need to simmer the mixture for six minutes while constantly stirring.
- Give the mix a stir for the full 6 minutes, even if it appears to be perfectly mixed after just 2-3 minutes.
- Pour the hot mixture into your preferred moulds and allow to cool for 20 minutes without covering it.
- Then, cover the moulds securely with clingfilm and put them in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.
- Make sure the cheese has set fully, remove from the moulds and enjoy!
Soft Vegan Cheese for Melting
- Again, simply add all of the ingredients to a pan, though in this instance use 50% less water and half as much agar agar. There may be a little trial and error involved here, depending on the strength of the agar agar you use.
- Bring to a very gentle boil and simmer slowly for five minutes, stirring constantly all the while.
- After 5 minutes, add two fairly generous tablespoons of tapioca flour to the remaining cold water and stir until dissolved.
- Add this tapioca mixture to the hot cheese mixture and continue to simmer and stir vigorously for an additional minute.
- By this point, you should have a delightfully luxurious thick and stretchy mixture, indicating it’s ready to be removed from the heat.
- Pour into a suitable container, allow to cool uncovered on the side for at least 15 minutes and then transfer to the fridge for at least 3 hours without covering the mould.
- You can then remove the cheese from the mould and grate it, ready to use as you would any other grated cheese.
Top Tips and Extras
Rounding things off, a few extra insights and practical pointers on how you can take your home cheesemaking to the next level:
- When the recipe states that you need to stir the mixture constantly, that’s exactly what you need to do - make the mistake of leaving it to its own devices and it isn’t going to happen.
- Once you have made your cheese, it can be kept in a suitable container in the fridge for a maximum of five days, or frozen for at least three months without losing its quality.
- If you want your cheese to taste cheesier, you can experiment with different quantities of nutritional yeast. It will not have an impact on the texture, so it’s entirely up to you to find the right quantity to suit your tastes.
- Likewise, you might also want to experiment with different quantities of agar agar, as even a slight variation can make a major difference to the consistency of the cheese.
- Feel free to get as creative as you like with all manner of herbs and spices if looking to make your own faithful replica of cheese at home.
- If the mood takes you, a drop or two of vegan food colouring can also help create a more convincing final product. After all, they do say the first bite is with the eye!