Monday, February 18, 2013

artisan vegan cheese :: review

Hard Guyère from Miyoko Shinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese.
I'm a little late to the party, but I finally treated myself to Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schimmer, the book that has taken the plant-based world by storm. I own Miyoko's other two other vegan cookbooks and over the years, I've been impressed by her Japanese and contemporary recipes. She is known as a perfectionist who tweaks her dishes --often over the course of years! – until she is 100% satisfied. Since I adore Miyoko's style and love trying new culinary techniques, I couldn't wait to dive right in.

In paging through the book, I could see the influence of Jo Stepaniak's pivotal Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, one of the first vegan cookbooks I bought and fell in love with, "back in the day." It used to be that there was only one vegan cookbook covering every category [eg, cheese, desserts, various ethnic cuisines]. But herbivorous vegan chefs continue to inspire each other and propel this cooking style forward. Watching plant-based food evolve over the years from crunchy fringe faction into bona-fide cuisine is satisfying, to say the least.

To start, I decided to try making the following cheeses:
  • Goat Cheese
  • Hard Gruyère
  • Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Air-Dried Cheddar
 [Warning: This post is a photo bomb; it's picture heavy!]
Rejuvelac, fermenting on my counter.
Many of the cheeses require homemade rejevelac for fermentation. Rejuvelac is basically a probiotic culturing agent made from grains. Aging your own rejuvelac is a little like having a pet because you have to water and nurture it.

Cashew Goat Cheese, in the foreground rolled in Herbes de Provençe
Goat Cheese
Miyoko's book is worth it for this cheese alone. The Goat Cheese was my favorite recipe of the bunch, and I will definitely be making this over [and over and over!].  First, it truly tastes like dairy goat cheese--to a "fool an omnivore" degree. The texture. The sharpness. The aroma. Second, it's easy to throw together. I would recommend making this recipe first because it yields an almost instant cheesy gratification. I wound up eating most of the batch on crackers but I did use it to make a few sandwiches.  Next time, I'm planning to use in on salads and as a crostini topper. Would also be great in a vegan omelette or quiche.

Hard Gruyère with a slice missing, Looks like a large Pac-man, no?
Hard Gruyère
This cheese was also magnificent and another omnivore fooler. Very rich and creamy, thanks to the addition of coconut oil. It was also quite simple to make and it did taste remarkably like dairy Gruyère.

Again, I ate this mostly on crackers – divine! – and it is also delicious as a sandwich spread. [I don't know about you, but I can only eat so much hummus per week!] In fact....

...I even had some for dinner last night with some red wine. I know it looks Spartan for a cookbook author's dinner, but I only had Udi's Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread  in the 'fridge [my favorite gluten-free load]. Although my sandwich was delish, this would have been more luxurious on a crusty baguette, with a few apple slices.

Air-dried Cheddar
Air-dried Cheddar. Not pretty. Not cheddar-like. But delicious.
Here's where I ran into problems, but I take the blame because I am not the world's most obedient cookbook reader. I did not want to use nor did I have carageenan [seaweed used for thickening] and I was out of agar powder so I substituted agar flakes [Ratio is 2 parts flake = 1 part powder]. I am sure this was part of the problem concerning the texture. Plus Miyoko said to use the blender, but I used the food processor instead of the blender [The blender does a much better job].

Directions said after cooking to form in molds and air dry on a rack. My mixture was so moist that I had no choice but to dry my 2 resulting cheeses on plates for the first 24 hours, Afterward, they were hard enough to transfer to racks, but they weren't "model" cheeses, as you can see. I chose to air-dry them for 5 days. The result tasted eerily dairy-cheese-like – but not at all Cheddar-like. The cheese tasted more like a stinky French cheese – stinky in a good way. If the recipe name had been "AIr-Dried Stinky French Cheese," my expectations would have been better managed.

Boconcini, sitting in salted brine.
Buffalo Mozzarella
Humbled by the Lumpy Cheddar fiasco, I vowed to follow the mozzarella recipe to the letter and was excited to see the "boconcini" coagulate as I dropped them into the brine. This cheese looks like mozzarella. It smells like mozzarella. But unfortunately it does not taste like mozzarella or anything I care to eat. The results were simply inedible; I sucked it up and threw the entire batch out – especially painful since raw cashews are not cheap. My cheese was very grainy, but my biggest beef was the flavor – pasty, not salty enough and just oddly bland. Unfortunately, I found Miyoko's revamped version of the recipe a bit too late.

My assessment
This book is a lot of fun, I'm glad I own it, and I intend to try to make many more cheeses. Yes, the recipes can be fussy. But in reality, making cheese is fussy – it's a multi-step process that can often take up to a week. I am a beginning vegan cheese maker and just wanted to document my adventures honestly here. Plus, as I said, I am not the most obedient cookbook reader. I am convinced that the texture of the Buffalo Mozzarella and Air-Dried Cheddar would have been better if I had a Vitamix. So maybe it's time for me to get one?

Miyoko also includes recipes for yogurts, sour creams, cream cheese, ricottas, parmesan and nut milk, so I have only scratched the surface. I think she did a fabulous job and has opened the door for the birth of even more inventive vegan recipes. If you are a vegan who misses cheese and are process-oriented, you need this book.

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foodfeud said...

Nice review! I appreciate learning about the troubles people have with cookbooks as well as the successes - and it looks like the successes were worth it too! I know you've spent a lot of time in France so I trust yr judgement on all things cheese.

Andrea said...

You made completely different cheeses than I did, and clearly I need to make the goat cheese and the hard gruyere. Maybe not the cheddar after seeing your pic — not sure I can get that out of my mind. :) You should try the cream cheese — easiest thing in the book and very realistic. Also, the smoked provolone is very nice, both fresh and dried. I'm not sure if it tastes like provolone, but it tastes great — and even without carrageenan, it melts!

Russell Martin said...

I have also struggled with some of the recipes in this book. The air-dried parmesan that Im currently curing tastes like nothing so much as air-dried Miso. Vegan yogurt just did not ever come together - I threw the whole lot out. I forget what the first one I made was but it wasn't bad. Unfortunately, many of us cannot afford expensive tests with pine nuts and cashews. More specificty would be nice.

Nora Saxenhuber said...

Could it be that you used a darker Miso than the author, because I did in the beginning and my "cheeses" didn`t taste like anything but miso as well until I found a lighter version, with which they work perfectly.
But it`s indeed a shame if the recipe does not work out. Nuts just are way to expensive and I never feel good throwing food away >.<

Anonymous said...

I wish I had a next door neighbor obsessed with this book so I could just wander over and try their cheese because I do not have the follow through for projects like this! But all the cheeses look delicious!

Bianca said...

I made that mozzarella, and like you with the cheddar, I made some small changes. Mine didn't coagulate properly, so I scooped it out of the brine with a slotted spoon and used it as a soft spread. I love the flavor though! I also made the soft gruyere and thought it was amazing. Still need to try the cheddar. I may skip on the goat cheese cause I never liked the flavor of dairy goat cheese. Love this book!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Dynise, the Meltable Mozzarella is fast, easy and good!

urban vegan said...

Good point. I used light miso, but it works both ways. I like umami flavors so I might be inclined to try darker miso, too. I really wanted to salvage the mozzarella but it just tasted too odd to be able to eat.

urban vegan said...

I'll have to try it. Did you make the BRIE, Brie-anna? (I love bad puns. Can't help myself ;)

and_i_say said...

I tried to make the sharp cheddar first. I read online that it's one of the more difficult cheeses to make after starting. Whoops. I think my cashews soaked too long, so there was extra moisture, and I needed to blend it in a Vitamix (didn't have one yet at that time). I'd be willing to try again, but only after reading the author's suggestions on her website. She had posted on the facebook page that cashew butter can be used if you can't get the texture right in your blender and rejuvalec can be made using malted grains.

urban vegan said...

I think I soaked my cashews too long too--but I soaked them for 8 hours, which was still in the realm of the recipe. I think Miyoko needs a second edition!

Joey said...

I've been making a few of the cheeses and they've all turned out pretty well (although none of my air dried cheeses looked pretty, they all turned a bit crusty on the outside.) My provolone ended up being really oily, so not all the recipes are perfect, but most of the ones I've tried have been a bit of a revelation.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review! Well-written too!

I have bought this fab book a week ago in The Waterstones in Brussels, Belgium & I am loving it too! I didn't made a lot of it yet but soon, I will try a lot of the recipes though! :)

Dawn said...

Dynise, you are not alone! There are definitely issues with the recipes in AVC and I'm glad you shared your problems here. I made the Gruyere (hard and soft) twice and had success with the cheese itself (yum!), but interestingly, my Vitamix HATED blending them. So, a Vitamix may not be the answer to the cheese problems. It made a horrible noise and ground to a halt (literally--it stopped working completely after just barely blending the cheese up) and emitted a burning smell when I followed the directions exactly during my first two attempts. I used the tamper, etc., but the machine still would not blend anymore after the grinding noise/burning smell started, which was shortly after it just incorporated the ingredients. I thought I was going to break the VM! This time (the third attempt, I made another round last week) I decided to pre-grind the soaked cashews in my food processor then transfer that to the Vitamix with the other ingredients and processed it in two batches! This way was very successful, but annoying and time consuming.

The other thing is that I cannot find unsweetened soy yogurt anywhere to make many of the other recipes (though I'm sure WF has it--I forgot to look for it the last time I was there, I don't go very often). I think the only company that makes unsweetened soy yogurt is Whole Soy & Co. I will probably ask Wegmans to order it for me.

I just made a (first) batch of basic cashew cheese to make the goat's cheese for this weekend, which I anticipated would work well, and so I'm glad to see you really liked it. I'll probably do the Boursin-style one, for fun (and I love herbs in my cheese!). BTW, I noticed that organic cashews get softer than conventional cashews upon soaking, and that 8 hours is pushing it for the soak time, particularly with the organic 'shews.

Thanks again for sharing. Keep us posted on any other cheese making adventures!

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KP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Doesn't that Udi's bread have egg whites???

Anonymous said...

Yes the ingredients of that Udi's bread says contains egg.