If you’ve perused the dairy case lately, you’ve noticed something curious called “vegan cheese,” probably tucked into the corners of the display. And you probably ran in the other direction, but if it’s “nut cheese” it is likely a delicious new food to weave into your repertoire.
There are lots of things not-cheese can be made of, and hands down nut-cheese is the least mysterious, most tasty of these options. It’s entirely possible to turn nuts into a fermented hard food (much like a hard cheese), but for the sake of this discussion we’re going to focus on soft nut-cheeses with a texture similar to fresh cheese like goat’s milk, feta or another spreadable cheese.
Cheeses made with milk derive flavor from fermentation, so you need milk, time and lots of patience as well as just the right conditions and temperatures to make cheese at home. Nut cheeses, on the other hand, aren’t fermented in the same way, so the recipe requires some flavor agents; in this case, garlic, herbs, lemon. Anyone can make nut-cheese with just a few ingredients and a small amount of time. They basically make themselves in the background while you go about your business dreaming of all the things you’re going to schmear with your cheese or nut-cheese.
The garlic and herb nut-cheese is the perfect spread for sandwiches, to eat with crackers, dolloped on soups or anywhere you’d add soft spreadable cheese. When your friends ask what that delicious creaminess spread on your pizza is, remember to tell them “nut-cheese!”
Ingredients for servings
2 cup raw cashews
2 cloves garlic minced
0.5 tsp garlic powder plus more, to taste
1 medium lemon, zested
2 medium lemons juiced
0.75 cup water
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
0.5 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh dill, parsley and chives, finely minced, for serving
Nut “Cheese” Isn’t Cheese But It’s Still Delicious
Place cashews in a bowl and cover with cool water and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to soak for 12 hours. If you can’t get to them right away, drain, place back in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. They will keep refrigerated for 24 or 36 hours.
Once soaked, drain cashews thoroughly and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add minced garlic, garlic powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, water, nutritional yeast, salt and olive oil.
Process until very creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more lemon zest for tartness, nutritional yeast for cheesiness, garlic for zing or salt for flavor and balance.
Place a fine mesh strainer (or colander) over a large mixing bowl, and lay down two layers of cheesecloth (or a clean, fine, absorbent towel) in the strainer.
Use a spatula to scoop the mixture into the cheesecloth, then gather the corners and twist the top gently to form and squeeze the cheese into a disc shape. Secure with a rubber band.
Place in refrigerator to set for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, or until excess moisture has been wicked away, and it holds its form when released from the cheesecloth.
To serve, unwrap from cheesecloth and gently invert the nut-cheese onto a serving platter. Re-form with hands or cheesecloth as needed, then coat with chopped herbs and a bit more lemon zest (optional). It will be fragile, so handle gently.
Enjoy chilled with crackers or vegetables. Cheese holds its form for 1 or 2 hours out of the refrigerator and retains its shape best when chilled. Leftovers keep well covered in the refrigerator up to five days.