Aged to Perfection

Hard pucks of florescent yellow plastic; waxy, limp shreds that are more likely to burst into flame than melt in the oven; odd imports that carry a price tag equivalent to edible gold. It’s hard to believe that only a scant few years ago, this was the array of options for the pitiful vegan craving a taste of something cheesy. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’re not done yet. Achieving mainstream acceptance of a meltable, palatable vegan alternative seemed like the climax of the story, the best that anyone eschewing dairy could ever hope for, but now Miyoko Schinner has gone and raised the bar once more.

In many ways, Artisan Vegan Cheese reads like the sequel to The Uncheese Book. Recipes are largely nut and agar based, but where it diverges drastically is in technique. Probiotics are added to the mix in the form of either vegan yogurt or rejuvelac, both of which have their own recipes for making at home for the avid cook. Cheeses are aged, just like in traditional processes with dairy milk, which allows for development of those tangy, funky flavors that simply can’t be replicated by any simple ingredient addition.

Miyoko makes it clear from the onset that this book is not about instant gratification. Though plenty of recipes included can be whipped up and eaten right away, the real crème de la crème, if you will, are the aged cheeses. Fermentation and drying times vary from three days to three weeks, depending on your diligence and patience.

While waiting for my millet-based Rejuvelac (page 6) to ferment, I dove right into the simpler recipes, enticed by the promise of Rich and Creamy Alfredo Sauce (page 62.) It wasn’t so much the idea of smothering noodles in the creamy condiment that caught my attention, but the suggestion of using it to top a pizza that Miyoko mentions in the intro. Such a brilliant idea was impossible to ignore, and so I blended up that sauce in record time, slapping it on freshly risen dough, and gilded the lily with delicate squash blossoms picked earlier that day. Nice and thick, the Alfredo sat perfectly in place from baking to eating, all while remaining creamy throughout. Although mild in flavor, the subtle touch of white wine added unexpected complexity to the mix, and allowed my additional herbs and toppings to really shine.

Now with a big batch of yeasty, sour rejuvelac on hand, I steeled myself for the real heart of the matter; the aged cheeses. Making the Smoked Provolone (page 51) was an absolute must, turning out to be my favorite pick of the litter. To give you a hint of how impressed I was, my tasting notes for this amber-orange wheel lead with “shockingly delicious, a total game-changer.” Sure, it seemed promising, but how could it differ so greatly than other cheeses I had made before? Tasting is believing my friends, because nothing else comes close. Unlike so many curd copycats before, the flavor is not of vinegar, not mustard, not nooch, but simply cheese. A firm rind had formed after air-drying on the counter for four days, while the interior remained soft yet slice-able. The smoky flavor made me think more of a gouda than a provolone, but specifics aside, even my omnivorous mom agreed that it tasted like something that a cow would produce, not a cashew.

Next up was Air-Dried Emmentaler (page 32), a cheese similar to Swiss but without the tunnel-like holes. Softer than anticipated, even after aging a full three days, only the sharpest knife in my drawer would facilitate clean cuts. Vaguely gummy, the texture was not ideal, but the tangy, distinctive flavor made up for it. Funky but still delicate enough to play nicely with any sort of pairing, sweet or savory, it’s a highly versatile option.

One of the few remaining “holy grails” of vegan food has got to be convincing dairy-free Brie (page 12)… but no more. Skeptically but optimistically adding the entire cup of refined coconut oil called for, it seemed impossible that anything edible, let alone delicious, would come of this crazy experiment. Oh, how happily wrong I was. After sitting out to warm for 30 minutes before removing a wedge, the texture won’t be runny like traditional Brie, but it does become lusciously spreadable and creamy. To me, it tasted like cream cheese with some extra funk, but I’ve never actually had Brie in the first place. Again seeking confirmation from my mom, she proclaimed it “very Brie-like, aside from the texture,” emboldening me to serve it at a strictly omnivore dinner party. Almost the entire wheel went missing well before the main meal was served.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Risotto Fritters (page 76), otherwise known as arancini, due to the surprisingly loose consistency of the rice even after cooling. A messy struggle with sticky hands ensued, but all the hassle was worthwhile when my Emmentaler-stuffed appetizers came out of the oven. Opting to simplify and bypass the hot oil, these rice balls were just as tasty bake as they would have been fried. A light tomato undertone, with frequent pops of herbaceous basil throughout offsets the creamy cheese inside. Plain old marinara would have been just fine, rather than the somewhat forgettable roasted pepper sauce, since these are flavorful enough to hold their own.

Suddenly the refrigerator cheese drawer was overburdened with non-dairy delights, calling for drastic measures of reduction. Seeking out the richest, gooiest recipe to pack in as much cheese as possible, the time was finally right to try making aligot. Like mashed potatoes but with equal parts spuds and cheese, this side dish is actually stretchy when made properly. Incredibly, overwhelmingly buttery, it was delicious indulgence, but a bit much for me. After enjoying one portion of full-frontal aligot, the rest of the batch was mixed with a good dose of veggies and thinned out to make an incredible potato soup.

With recipe from Artisan Vegan Cheese in hand, vegans no longer need to offer their cheesy creations to others accompanied by a disclaimer, or a campy title like “cheez.” Leave the excuses back in the 20th century and join in on the future of cruelty-free cuisine; this is simply vegan cheese, no subtitles or purposeful misspellings, and it’s damn good.

42 thoughts on “Aged to Perfection

  1. OMAGAAAD ! I have this book, Just Amazing !
    Hannah, your photo are … AMAZING, you are a very very talented girl, OMG waouw !
    T’es la meilleure des vegan américaine, ça oui !

  2. Linking sexual inuendo with cheeze is a logical progression. Cheese was one of my passionate embraces in my past food life. I must have been keeping a few dairys in Australia alive with my single minded driven urge to consume them out of all cheesy goodness. I HATED soy cheese. I wouldn’t even call it cheese. It’s just bland grateable gunge as far as I am concerned and the latest crew of amazingly talented vegans who decided that enough was enough and who created the heaven that we now know of as our new vegan cheezes are forever in my heart.Just finished the post and “Cheese” it is girl! My heart stopped when I saw the smoked provalone…Yup…it started again! I have the book but have been a bit busy lately and haven’t actually attempted anything from it. I think that serious mistake is just about to be rectified in a hurry. Millet rejuvelac? Sounds like a plan. If anything as amazing as that smoked provalone can come out of my kitchen on a regular basis after only a few days (heck…I would wait months for something like that!) it’s time for me to jump in at the deep end and tackle real non dairy cheeses. Thanks for the nudge, it was dripping in heady promise and has lured me from my garden to giving some of these beauties a go :)

  3. Funny you should mention Aligot in your post. I was in Montpellier last weekend and I saw it in the market for the first time.Thanks for your review of Ms Schinner’s book. When I entertain vegan friends I’d like to be able to offer them a cheese course and now I can. It’s brilliant!

  4. Woo hoo! I’ve got some rejuvelac on the counter right now, can’t wait to try out some of these recipes! That provlone is totally at the top of my list, holy yum. Thanks for sharing your sentiments on some of the recipes!

  5. I’ve been looking at this book recently and you’ve just tipped me over the edge into buying it! I love your comment about it being a bit of a sequel to The Uncheese Book, as this is where I would normally turn to get a non-dairy cheese fix – now I’ve got even more options :D

  6. This is the best review I’ve read of this book so far. I don’t miss cheese at all, but tasting Brie and Gruyere again in a cruelty-free preparation is awfully enticing.

  7. Far-out, Hannah! I just finished writing about the cheeses offered by Vegusto (have you tried them?) and of how enamoured I am of them. Their vegan cheeses are perfection, but reading your reviews of the cheeses you whipped up—not to mention your mum’s reactions—blew me away and made me eager to try making some of these on my own, especially the provolone. Thank you for this glowing review! I hope have some provolone drying on my counter one day…

    1. Ah, Vegusto is on of those rare, pricy imports that I’d love to get my hands on! I’ve never seen it in stores around here, or in NYC, so I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling it yet… Hopefully they’ll expand distribution to my area. Curiously, it looks like it might be available in Germany. Maybe I can get my dad to hunt some down for me in the meantime! Thanks for the tip. :)

  8. Wow! WOW! I’ve been reading so much about this book and I really think I need to give in and buy it asap. Every picture looks perfect and made me want cheese immediately! I’ll have to get some Vegusto to tide me over!

  9. Great review and lovely photos, Hannah! My holy grail of vegan cheese is feta, though. Is there a recipe for that in this wonderful book? I might just be tempted to buy it then! (I probably still will eventually, for when I have more time for fancy cheeses, but a feta recipe would speed up the process.)

    1. Yes, there is indeed a feta recipe! It’s actually a variation on the Tofu Cheese, so the process is quite different from these cheeses I featured. However, I’ve been making Bryanna’s Potted Tofu for years, which is quite similar in preparation and easily my favorite feta-substitute, so it definitely has potential.

  10. You truly “dove” in! I’ve been eyeing this book for too long. I may have to treat myself. But I can’t see myself making the rejuvelac. Who knows, though. Years ago, I didn’t see myself as ever becoming a long distance runner.

  11. Hi Hannah, I was wondering whether a high-speed blender was required to make these recipes? I tried the cashew cream cheese (recipe on Your Vegan Mom), and it was good but with a bit of a grainy texture and cashew taste, I wonder if that’s because I don’t have a vitamix?

    1. I do have a Vita-Mix so it certainly helped, by Miyoko claims that it’s not strictly necessary. If you soak your cashews longer, they should soften enough to blend more smoothly in a standard blender. Be sure to allow more time for all of the tiny pieces to process, too.

  12. Hannah your pictures really bring vegan to a whole new level. I went to a raw food seminar the other day and now I can say that cheese (vegan cheese has never tasted so yummy) Who would have thought you could make such yummy things with nuts. Just amazing.

  13. Hi Hannah,
    This is the best review I have seen on Artisan Vegan Cheese. You navigate the book, describe some of the processes, offer details of your experiences from several recipes, and share phenomenal photos, as always. I really appreciate your honesty in the taste/texture comments. I can’t wait to add this to my collection now.
    Thanks so much and hope all is well!

  14. wow..Your photos make all the cheese look tempting. I’m in this cheese craze now..Though its more like eating and not the making. the zucchini flowers pizza looks really delicious. I feel like taking a bite out of it! the smoked provolone looks amazing too..I can only imagine how it taste.

  15. I’ve also just bought this book — and your review has it me just itching to make the cheeses. I’m currently waiting for my rejuvelac to do it’s thing… C’mon vegan cheese!!

  16. Fantastic review Hannah! I picked up a copy last week and I’m now dying to start making some of these recipes. The provolone wouldn’t have been my first choice but after reading your description, it’s at the top of the list.

  17. This a great post; thanks for sharing! I have the cookbook and have tried twice, unsuccessfully, to make rejuvalec! My millet never sprouted…made me think my grains were too old. And I tried with buckwheat groats and they didn’t seem to sprout either. Also, I feel foolish for asking this, but did it smell awful? Mine was pretty gross smelling. I ordered some a few days ago, but would really love to make my own moving forward. If you have any tips I would appreciate it!! Thanks!

    1. Don’t worry- I know many people say that rejuvelac is supposed to smell “tangy,” but mine was definitely pretty rank. I would never dream of just drinking it, but it worked beautifully in all the recipes, just as hoped. My only advice is to give it a try! The worst that can happen is that you waste some ingredients. It does suck when it happens, but its not the end of the world. :)

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