Milk – cow or goat – is not my friend. I’ve been off dairy for close to 15 years now, and I’ve mostly gotten used to it. Far from the days when my mom called me “Miss Mouse” for all the cheese I ate, nowadays much cheese tastes funny to me. Thee big exception is that I really miss cheese on a pizza. We have homemade pizza almost every Friday night, and I’ve gone through variations with no cheeselike toppings (reeeeeeeallly dry) to “tofu ricotta” (tasty but a bit wet) to vegan cheez shreds. My first impression of Daiya was “ye gods, this is awful – smells like gym socks and coats the roof of my mouth.” Not to mention it’s made with pea protein, to which I am also allergic (though not so much as the dairy).
The tofu ricotta is pretty easy to make and definitely helps avoid the “bread with ketchup” feeling of a no-cheese pizza. Just crumble medium or firm tofu with a fork and add salt (1/2 tsp or more for a block of tofu) and something acidic (my favorite is a teaspoon each of olive brine and cider vinegar). You can also season it with garlic and Italian herbs. Drain off any excess liquid after a few minutes. It doesn’t melt or have that rich flavor cheese has, but it’s easy and tasty.
But I was hoping for something better, and I think I found it! Skye Michael Conroy is a vegan food scientist who analyzed what it is about cheese that tastes good and makes us happy, then did a ton of experimentation until settling on a group of recipes and a method for making soy- and almond-based cheeses (and some cashew-based ones, too). I highly recommend buying The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook for the recipe and method.
I didn’t get any pictures as I was making it, because it goes fairly fast and requires constant stirring. It also requires some special ingredients, but I think the results are totally worth it. Knocks Daiya out of the water, that’s for sure – it’s got the best flavor and texture of any fake cheese I’ve ever tasted.
Here’s the finished product of the Monterrey Jack recipe. The larger container will go into the fridge to chill into a block, which can then be shredded or sliced. The smaller container has pretty much cooled, and I was sampling it from the still-melted stage through the mostly-cooled stage.
So how do you make it? The basic method is to whisk tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour), kappa carrageenen, salt, and nutritional yeast into your soy milk as you heat it on the stove. Then add melted coconut oil and whisk some more. At this point, it looks exactly like cheese fondue before you get all the liquor mixed in. When that reaches 175 degrees F, stir in a tablespoon of vinegar and whisk like crazy. It magically smooths out and blends together. Then pour it into a container, which will act as your cheese mold. For exact method and recipes, I will direct you to Conroy’s book – that amount of research really deserves your support. The book has recipes for a number of “block cheeses,” like mozzarella, dill havarti, pepper jack, and gouda, plus soft cheeses like Brie and even some blue cheeses, complete with blue “veins.”
This is honestly much easier – and LOADS faster – than making dairy cheese. It uses a number of weird ingredients – kappa carrageenen is apparently very different from other kinds of carrageenen, and there are some brands that don’t work at all. The stuff in the link above is specifically mentioned in the recipe, and it definitely worked for me. You also need to be sure there is nothing in your soy milk except soy beans and water. Eden Unsweetened and WestSoy are good brands; or, like me, you can make your own from whole beans. This cheese is also not cheap; I calculated it came to $4.25-$6.50 per 1 lb batch depending on whether you buy your ingredients in bulk. And, of course, it is not terribly local and has some heavily-processed ingredients, and if you have a soy or nut allergy, these recipes won’t work for you.
Still, as a luxury food, it has several advantages: it’s tasty, it is a true comfort food, all the ingredients are shelf-stable and so easy to buy in bulk and store until needed, and…it makes my heart happy to not be left out of cheeselife entirely. I will definitely make a few more batches and see if it’s worth the money and trouble to have this on my pizza. If it will keep for several weeks and I can get a number of pizzas out of it (and it continues to taste as good as the samples), it’s likely I will keep making it.