Uncheese, Uncomplicated

17 years later and still in mainstream circulation, it’s clear that the The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak has serious staying power, and pearls of wisdom still ripe for the picking. Even in this modern day and age of easily available store-bought non-dairy cheese substitutes, found in a vast array of flavors, with many that even melt and taste good, there is still room in the kitchen for homemade renditions. For the avid DIY-er or frugal cooking enthusiast, The Uncheese Book remains the unchallenged authority on the subject. Reprinted and updated in 2003, it remains largely unchanged since its initial 1994 release, and considering how drastically the face of veganism has morphed since then, that fact should speak volumes by itself.

Not to say that this tome of cheesy concepts is entirely infallible, however. After a few trials of my own, it became startlingly clear that the recipes within could be very much hit-or-miss affairs. Most intrigued by the idea of making block cheeses at home that could be sliced and grated at will, I started near the back of the book rather than the beginning.

After all, the possibility of homemade vegan “Gooda” was just too tempting to resist. An old childhood favorite, small wheels of smoked gouda almost always found their way onto the hors d’oeuvre table at many family functions, and had me hooked for most of my preteen years. Firm but easily sliced, the consistency of the milk-less cheese surpassed my expectations from the moment it cooled and solidified. However, eaten straight away that same day, it struck me as having a pungent mustard flavor. Having utilized smoked paprika and hickory-smoked sea salt to impart a subtle undertone, it had just the right lightly smoke-y nuance… But was far from any smoked gouda I could recall. With confirmation from my cheese-eating mother, I was initially disappointed in this wild experiment, and tossed my unloved wheel into the fridge. Forgotten for two days, it managed to mature considerably, and was quite agreeably improved upon second taste. I still can’t claim it will calm any authentic gouda cravings, but I would not be ashamed to serve this up at any party.

Moving on to the Muenster, or what I used to refer to as “monster” cheese, once upon a time, it was a lovely little number, all dressed up in ruby red paprika and begging to be shown off to friends and family. This is the “cheese” that stole my heart, my favorite of the book thus far and a savory treat so good, I don’t think I shared even a sliver. Mild but creamy, with an addictive umami-sort of whisper throughout, I would argue that this one might be able to fake it as “real” cheese. Perfectly complimented by the paprika coating, lending the pale block both a pop of color and sweetly spicy flavor, it was a delight to behold both with the eye and palate. This recipe alone is worth the full cover price of the book, and then some.

Less successfully, I also tried the Almond Cream Cheez… Let’s just say, this one should get a pass, or perhaps a severe edit. The main issue likely stems from the use of arrowroot, which gives the so-called spread a texture more akin to gooey pond scum than any edible item. There is hope for this misguided shmear, however, as the flavor itself was shockingly spot-on for cream cheese. Even dressed up as cute little cucumber and olive canapes, there was no saving that slime. Lightly tangy and with just the right balance of salt, I continued attempting to eating it time and again since the taste was so perfect, but the textural issues were simply unforgivable. With perhaps a bit of love and a new thickener, it could certainly become a winning option as well.

Branching out a bit into composed dishes, I found the suggestion of a vegan Blintzes wholly intriguing, and highly worthwhile. Made of gluten-free, chickpea flour-based crepe and mashed tofu filling, the recipe was deceptively simple. My own sad crepe-making skills may be largely to blame, but truth be told, I couldn’t get one whole crepe out of this mix as written. Only after adding a good measure of glutenous white flour was I able to turn out a feeble three or four flat pancakes. Tasted alone, the assembly was admittedly rather bland, but paired with a basic blueberry sauce, deemed not at all bad by all eaters present. The labor may not be worth such a lukewarm review, but once more, I feel that there is immense potential given a few more flavorful tweaks.

Considering the overwhelming list of options, I would hardly consider my review to be exhaustive, though, and would strongly urge anyone interested to give it a gander for yourself. Whole sections of appealing savories such as stews, casseroles, and other main dishes went entirely untouched, so I have no doubt that the potential to find more stellar recipes is a 100% likelihood. All things considered, I think that this is still a cookbook that every vegan or otherwise lactose-intolerant person should own.

61 thoughts on “Uncheese, Uncomplicated

  1. Hmm the only vegan cheese I’ve tried to make has been the easy tofu ricotta in every vegan cookbook, and I’m pretty content to stick with that. This sounds like a fun cookbook but I get anxious making a recipe and wasting ingredients if I’m not sure it’ll come out well or not.

  2. That Muenster cheese looks absolutely amazing! I’ve always been a bit wary of vegan cheeses but if the Muenster is as good as you say, then I’m going to get a copy of that book quick smart! Thanks Hannah.


  3. Thanks for posting this! That muenster cheese looks *amazing* and I’m wicked excited to try it. My tummy’s growling at the thought!

    One question – did you make yours with the optional silken tofu?

    1. I see you’ve already answered my question in a previous comment! Thanks again for the exciting post! :)

  4. Wow. Great post, Hannah. My mum’s had this books for a few years, and I’ve always had a note in the back of my mind to borrow it and try a few of the recipes out. Now I think I’ll have to get on that. I love Daiya and all, but it’s really expensive and it’s not always the taste I’m looking for. Thanks for the tips on the different cheeses.

  5. Wow,your non-cheese cheeses look lovely! I have made many raw cheeses from nuts which have also been good.Have never heard of that book,but will look it up.

  6. Ah, I love this book! The Colby Cheez is the only block cheese that I have tried so far, and I LOVE it. I’m sold though, muenster is next fo’ sho’!

  7. Hi, Hannah! Thank you for the wonderful review of Uncheese. The photos look absolutely scrumptious!

    Regarding the Cream Cheez, the photo looks like you didn’t let the mixture chill thoroughly before using it. If you chill it completely (per the directions) and then beat it well before using it (again, per the directions), the texture will change dramatically and not be gooey at all.

    I’m not sure what went awry with the blintzes, but it is critical that the batter sits for at least 15 minutes before making them (per the instructions). If it doesn’t, they won’t hold together when cooked and won’t work.

    While the block uncheeses are fun, they aren’t intended to be identical to dairy cheeses. I put them at the back of the book to encourage readers to try other types of uncheeses first, since expectations for block uncheeses are typically a bit unrealistic. I hope you’ll give some of the recipes in the front of the book a try too. Thank you again!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions Jo, I appreciate your comment!

      All I can say is that I followed the instructions very carefully, and am certain that I chilled the cream cheez thoroughly as directed, and allowed the batter for the crepes to sit for at least an hour, too. I know that I will try the cream cheez again soon, and perhaps using cornstarch or agar instead will help with the texture.

      And I’ve bookmarked many other recipes, so you can be sure that this won’t be the last I’ll use your cookbook!

      1. Here’s a question for you both!
        The recipe I use calls for guar gum as opposed to the agar. Would that be a fitting replacement for your recipe. It tends to firm mine out nicely, but I haven’t had the fortune to look at your book yet Jo, so I might just be off my rocker.

      2. Hi, Kat. I haven’t had good success with guar gum, but I wouldn’t discourage you from trying it. In the book I suggest making the recipes as written the first time, and then experimenting to tweak them to your own tastes. Guar gum is a good thickener, but I find the texture of the finished product to be too soft and unappealing. But you might like it, so give it a shot! Let me know what you think if you try it.

  8. Ooo I’m so intrigued with this book! I do eat cheese, but I’m always up for having some non-dairy options around. I want to taste the world and that includes forays into vegan cheese!

  9. I love, love, love your cookbook My SweeAwesome! Every recipe I’ve tried has come out Awesome! I am aspiring towards veganism. One of my biggest concerns has been a lack of meat and diary substitutes in Southern Louisiana. I will definitely be looking up that cookbto try some homemade cheeses.

  10. I bought this book years ago when it first came out and tried one recipe. It was so awful that I got rid of the book!

  11. I too have had hits and misses from this book, but the hits are worth making again and again. It’s an interested idea to let the block cheese “mature” for a few days to let the flavors come together.

  12. Looks interesting. In all my years of being vegan, I have never tried to recreate a cheese. Not sure why, they just haven’t looked very appetizing. The muenster looks good, I will have to give that a try. Thanks!

  13. OOh, yea. I love the monster cheese. It’s really tasty. If you get Julie Hasson’s new “Vegan Diner” book you must try her two block cheeses. One is a smoky cheese the other is a garlic dill. Both delicious!

  14. I’ve always actually preferred the cheeses from “Uncheese” to the commercial varieties. I even like the pizza cheese and the mac and cheese. Thanks for reminding me to get out my copy and make muenster!

  15. “Gooda”. *snort* That made me giggle more than it probably should have… Gosh, I really didn’t know you could make uncheese look so much like real cheese!

  16. ooo Im loving this post! I would love to try making the paprika covered cheese! Are most of the ingredients in the recipes easily available in supermarkets?
    I saw this book a long time ago and had forgotten all about it. Mabye its time to take the plunge and purchase a copy.


  17. Lots of Post-It notes in my copy of the book.
    Horseradish Crock Cheese is a staple in my house; everything dips nicely in it and it’s a great spread. Monterey Jack Cheeze sets up beautifully and has a great flavor and texture. Try smoked paprika for the Smoked Crock Cheese.
    There are some misses, though. Incredible Almond Creme Cheez has a handwritten “yucky” beside it. Betta Feta, sadly, went straight to the compost pile.
    I was a little disappointed in so many non-cheese dishes in this book: Graham Cracker Crust, Flaky Pie Crust, Carmelized Onion-Olive-and-Walnut Focaccia, and Bare Naked Polenta have nothing to do with cheese nor un-cheese — they’re just fillers in the book.
    The winners are real gems, though, and I wouldn’t trade the book for anything. There are still a few recipes I’ve yet to try. I hope it goes through another revision some day.

  18. I am very intrigued by the “monster” cheese! Love the paprika on the outside. Too bad some of the other recipes didn’t go so well- let us know if that cream cheese revision works out… that sounds intriguing too!

    1. Hi Janetta,

      While I didn’t really attempt to melt any of the block cheeses, there are also a number of cheese sauces that you can use for more of a melty/gooey-cheese consistency, should you want that on a dish. There are plenty of options for all tastes and textures.


  19. Well, I must say that the “muenster” looks totally cheesy! All of your photos are wonderful, of course, but that’s definitely the most authentic looking.

    I have no doubt that you will, at some point, conquer the issues with the cream cheez and the blintzes!

  20. Hey, I just wanted to say thanks–I’ve been reading your blog a while but don’t often make the recipes. Your lovely photo of the Muenster cheese inspired me to pull out that cookbook and make it myself. I’ve had the cookbook for years, but you are right–it’s very hit-and-miss. I loved the Muenster cheese and it’s very impressive for friends and family! Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. funny enough, I have this book checked out from the library now! I agree, it is very hit or miss (the millet cheesecake is awful), but since so many people seem to like it I thought I’d give it another try. I always loved Gouda, and I’ve never had muenster but I’ll have to try that one.

  22. Oh, this is exciting! I’ve heard of this cookbook before, but I usually just dismissed it as out of date. I might have to check it out, now, though! Muenster was one of my favorite cheeses in my pregan days. I’m excited to try it out if it’s that good!

  23. I’ve had the 2nd edition of this book since it came out, though I had some recipes photocopied from the 1st when I was still a starving college student :) One recipe I loved from the 1st that wasn’t in the 2nd was the zucchini fontinella sauce – sometimes I would let it thicken in the fridge and just eat it as a dip, it was that good! The gooey grilled cheeze was a staple in my diet right out of college, and I made a lot of unstuffed shells too. Somehow I never tried the block cheeses though, so you’ve inspired me to take another look at those. Jo’s books were all I had when I went vegan (this was before ones like Vegan with a Vengeance and so on!), I lived on recipes from Vegan Vittles!

  24. Your photo of the munster cheeze is sheer perfection! I have been meaning to make that myself but hated the way agar powder smells. It turned me off of making it. I think I’m gonna do it anyway, maybe the end result will cover up the gross agar-ness.

  25. Last week I made the Colby block uncheese, but it came out as a spread. I had an agar stick which I ground down into flakes & measured out the 5 tbsp as recipe calls for. Any ideas on where I went wrong? Should I buy already made agar flakes? Also, did you use cheese molds? If yes, where did you purchase?
    I appreciate any advice you can offer.
    Thank you,
    Michelle Beckham

    1. Hi Michelle,

      In my experience, agar sticks can never be ground down fine enough to approximate the texture or gelling properties of powdered agar. There’s really no substitution for already ground, finely powdered agar, and that is undoubtedly the cause of your textural difficulties. As for molds, I simply poured my “cheese” into recycled plastic food containers, nothing specially purchased for the task. You can use anything from small bowls to takeout containers, so just experiment with different shapes, and have fun with it! Hope that helps,


  26. Do you know if the muenster uncheese can be frozen? I made it tonight and will try it tomorrow, but since I will be the only one eating it, don’t want it to go bad after a week.

  27. Hi, Shellybelly. I don’t recommend freezing the uncheeses that contain agar because the texture will change. But you should be able to find plenty of ways to use it up before it goes bad. Just make a few sandwiches, and it will be gone! :) And since the uncheeses are low in fat and calories and are made from whole foods, you don’t have to worry about overdoing them. Enjoy!

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