- Delicious Vegan Cheese Recipes
- Non-Standard Items to Purchase
- Other Vegan Cheese Resources
- How Dairy Cheese is Made
Vegan cheese is probably one of the sticking points for many people who are removing animal products from their diet. Dairy cheese, with its wide varieties, has quite an addictive quality to it due to a certain animal protein that’s found in great abundance in cow’s milk: casein.
Admittedly, the store available vegan cheese just doesn’t do it for me. There are many more varieties available in the United States, but there’s a really limited amount in Australia. I’ve tried many of them and haven’t been satisfied with their melting abilities, taste or textures. Of course, many vegans are and it does come down to the individual. However, if you’re like me then you’ll be willing to invest a little more time into non-dairy cheese so you can be satisfied by the results.
You can actually make a wide variety of tasty, versatile vegan cheeses that are better than any store bought and it’s not difficult or overly time consuming. This is how you do it.
Delicious Vegan Cheese Recipes
Vegan cheese is produced using completely different processes to dairy cheese as plant milks do not contain casein and animal-based rennet is not used as a coagulant.
As such, there are a few new ingredients you’ll need to secure in order to create cheeses that are spreadable or firm, cultured or uncultured, with varying degrees of sharpness in taste. There’s more information on this below.
Grated vegan parmesan cheese. This cheese has a granular texture with a tart kick to its delicious flavour. It melts in hot foods and its taste develops over storage time.
Vegan feta herb cheese. Feta is a delicious crumbly aged cheese that’s tangy and salty with a slightly grainy texture to it, and is most commonly produced in blocks. All of this is easily achieved as a vegan feta cheese without using animal products and just takes a few key ingredients.
Vegan nut free parmesan cheese. This cheese is nut free and is made with sunflower seeds, miso paste and nutritional yeast. A perfect replacement for those allergic to nuts.
Smooth vegan mozzarella cheese melt. A smooth and thick mozzarella cheese melt that is great on homemade pizza, nachos or cannelloni.
Non-Standard Items to Purchase
When making homemade vegan cheeses, there will be a couple of new ingredients to purchase. The Modernist Pantry is a great resource. Some key ingredients to be aware of:
- Common emulsifier, coagulant and thickening powders used are lactic acid, kappa carrageenan, and xanthan gum available in 400g bags.
- Nutritional yeast is commonly used in cheese recipes.
- For hard forming cheeses, refined coconut oil is required, such as Copha. If you are concerned about Copha being hydrogenated, which adds some trans-fats in, you can purchase an un-hydrogenated coconut oil. Do not use extra-virgin coconut oil as it is unrefined and will impart a coconut taste.
- Use a soy milk with as little added ingredients as possible, such as Pure Harvest Malt Free soy milk in Australia, they only add salt and sunflower oil.
The Role of Lactic Acid and Kappa Carrageenan in Vegan Cheese
Lactic Acid is used as an superior alternative to lemon juice for adding flavour, acidity, and tanginess to non-dairy foods. It’s a by-product of the fermentation of sugar by the lactobacillus bacteria. Lactic acid is used to replace the bacteria to acidify dairy cheese mixtures.
Kappa Carrageenan is a seaweed derivative used in cooking as a thickening, stabilising and gelling agent, or in other words it causes the cheese mixture to coagulate. It also has heat-reversible properties which refers to the ability to re-melt when exposed to heat after it has already been set.
Carrageenan is produced in three forms: iota, kappa and lambda. Lambda is the subject of a great deal of media hype for its alleged gastrointestinal effects. Kappa carrageenan is molecularly different from lambda carrageenan.
Other Vegan Cheese Resources
There are a wide variety of recipes and resources for homemade vegan cheeses, such as:
- One Green Planet — These 25 Vegan Cheeses Will Make You Quit Dairy Forever
- Veg Kitchen — 8 Amazing Vegan Cheese Recipes
- Aquafaba — The brine liquid from a can of chickpeas or beans can be used to make non-dairy cheese. Check out the awesome Facebook group for ideas including vegan meringues and other baked goods.
How Dairy Cheese is Made
Dairy cheese is comprised of proteins and fat from milk from cows, buffalos, goats, or sheep. It is produced by coagulation of the milk protein casein.
Typically, the milk is acidified and the addition of the enzyme rennet (derived from the stomachs of baby calves, goats, and lambs) causes coagulation. The solids are then separated and pressed into final form. For a few cheeses, such as mascarpone and paneer, the milk is curdled by adding acids such as vinegar or lemon juice.
The dissected stomach of a calf where the enzyme rennet is derived from.
Most dairy cheeses are acidified by bacteria, which turns lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, with the addition of rennet completing the curdling process. At this stage, the cheese is considered fresh or unripened. Varieties that fall into this category include cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta. Other varieties are ripened by the addition of various strains of bacteria and fungi/moulds and then aged for varying periods of time. Ripened cheeses are further classified by texture or ageing process.
You may have seen vegetarian or non-animal based rennet in dairy cheeses before. Vegetarian rennet does exist and the enzymes are derived from various microbial and plant sources. However, it only works with milk from animals, like cows.
Casein Health Implications
The carbohydrate, protein and fat content of milk from one species is finely tuned to meet the nutritional requirements of that particular animal whether human, elephant, buffalo, camel or dog. Caseins are the primary group of proteins in cow’s milk, making up around 80% of the total protein content while the remaining portion is made up from whey proteins. There are four types of casein (alphaS1, alphaS2, beta and kappa casein) that combine to make up a structure known as a casein micelle.
Casein breaks down into peptides. These peptides are casomorphin and are one of the opioid compounds formed in our stomachs when we drink milk which has an opiate-like drug effect. Nature designed casomorphin as an opiod so that young mammals would enjoy nursing and keep coming back for more. Evolution never intended for humans to be consuming milk after infancy, especially not from pregnant animals.
Human milk typically has only 2.7 grams of casein per litre, where as cow’s milk has 26 grams per litre. When you realise that it takes, on average, 4.5 litres (10 pounds) of milk to make 0.45 kg (1 pound) of cheese, you’re looking at approximately 117 grams of casein, and resulting casomorphin, for a 0.45 kg block of cheese. No wonder some people struggle to imagine life without dairy cheese—it’s addictive. But there’s certainly a way to hold your vegan conviction strong and making your own homemade vegan cheese is a spectacular way forward. Personally, after 2-3 months of not eating dairy, my body stopped craving cheese.
Many people are completely unaware that the dairy industry also contributes to an enormous amount of exploitation and suffering, probably more so than animals grown for meat consumption.
These animals are slaves of production throughout their miserable lives. They are artificially inseminated each year and their baby calves are taken from them within several days of birth so they are unable to drink the milk that is intended for them. Instead, these young animals are sold to the meat industry and their bodies are butchered into products like veal.
Veal farming where young week old calves are kept relatively immobilised, denied from their mothers, in order for their muscles to be ‘tender’ when they are butchered and sold as veal.
The dairy industry and meat industry are inextricably linked. The dairy industry separates mother from young, takes the mothers milk and sells the young to the meat industry. The meat industry butchers the young animals, sells their body parts as veal or lamb, and then provides the rennet enzyme back to the dairy industry to make cheese.
A dairy cow will slow on her milk production due to her body being worn out, which usually occurs after 3-4 pregnancies. When this occurs they are often referred to as ‘downer cows‘. They are sold, killed, and their dismembered bodies are turned into cheap mince meat. Naturally, cow’s can live up to 20 years of age.
See More: The Australian Dairy Industry: The Life of the Dairy Cow
Creating your own vegan cheeses can bring you one step closer to not participating in the exploitation and suffering that the dairy industry inflicts on animals. The resources available are incredible and if you take the time to give it a little practice and effort, the rewards for yourself and the animals will be amazing.