Guest recipe: Miyoko Schinner’s vegan mozzarella di bufala!  »

I miss cheese. Don’t get me wrong—I’m sure if I ate it now, I’d get queasy right away and it would feel heavy and cloying (you know, in addition to all the guilt). So I guess what I mean is that I miss the idea of cheese (I’m deep).

I haven’t found a vegan cheese I really like except Dr. Cow, but the stuff costs as much as gold, so I rarely indulge in it and would never even entertain the idea of using it as an ingredient in a recipe.

Daiya is a great development in the store-bought cheese arena, but I’m not a huge fan. To me it tastes too, I dunno, fake. A little like Cheez Wiz (please don’t hate me).

Homemade nut cheese (hee hee) always seemed to me like this mysterious and fancy thing that was unattainable by regular, non-professional folk. But last Thanksgiving I happened to sit with a few lovely people from Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre at the Farm Sanctuary Celebration for the Turkeys (cough, adopt a turkey, cough). I expressed my awe of cashew cheese and they all told me that it’s actually not as intimidating to make as one would think. That was the spark that got me going. My mission became saving up for a Vita-Mix blender as my present to myself for my next 5 birthdays (that thought makes me feel better about the price) and to learn some recipes. In October I attended a cheese-making session held at Veg Fest by Miyoko Schinner and it got me so inspired that I finally took a deep breath and bought my blender (and she’s beautiful guys!).

Miyoko made three cheeses—gruyère, brie, and mozzarella di bufala—all delicious. I mean far and away the closest I’ve had to real cheese. It has the sharpness coming from the fermentation process and the right mouthfeel (ugh, I hate that word). And it’s pure food. Nothing processed here.

For those of you who may be intimidated like I was, I wanted to share my experience with Miyoko’s recipe—which is below, as well as on her blog—and  show you that it’s not so scary to do.

Important note: Do everything as she says; I didn’t on my first attempt, and the whole thing bombed. Basically, make sure to ferment it long enough to have a sharpness but not so long that it loses the mildness of mozzarella. I only did six hours on the first try for fear of making it too sharp, and the cheese tasted like nothing. I would taste as the hours go by and stop fermenting* when it’s right for you. Because it had no tang, and in an effort to salvage it, I continued to further screw up by adding lemon juice. I’m no scientist, but apparently lemon juice doesn’t like agar agar. The balls didn’t firm up (hee hee) in the water and it was a mushy mess. So, no lemon juice!

The one thing I did change in my second attempt, which didn’t seem to ruin anything, is add a whole teaspoon of salt, because—well, I just really like salt.

The second batch came out beautifully. The cheese firming almost immediately in the ice water was very neat—like Magic Shell chocolate sauce (side note: You can totally make that stuff yourself!).

I made a stacked Caprese salad with a reduced balsamic drizzle (dudes, it’s just boiled vinegar) and also tried it on pizza. The Caprese salad is remarkably similar to the non-vegan version, and on pizza it’s much more satisfying than Daiya and melts into a smooth ricotta-like texture with a slightly sharper flavor. I plan to melt it onto pasta next. I did this with Miyoko’s gruyère and some store-bought pasta sauce and it was delicious!

I hope you guys try it. I don’t do math, but this is probably more affordable than buying Dr. Cow or Daiya all the time (true?). That’s probably not counting the blender though. But really, buy that blender if you can. If you don’t have the money now make your next birthday request from friends and family to be a contribution to your blender fund. And you can buy them refurbished, which saves you $100. Plus they’re like Volvos and last forever.

So get to it! Make some fancy cheese and have that fancy holiday wine and cheese party you’ve always dreamed of.

Fresh Mozzarella di Bufala (di cashews)
by Miyoko Schinner

2 cups raw cashews, soaked for several hours in water
½ cup Rejuvelac
pinch of sea salt
½ to ¾ tsp. Xanthan gum
optional: 4 Tbsp. canola or refined coconut oil (for meltability purposes—not needed if using for Caprese salad or otherwise serving cold)
2 Tbs. agar agar flakes
⅔ cup water

In the morning (or the day before)
Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the Rejuvelac and salt. Blend, stopping to push down and scrape as necessary, until absolutely creamy and smooth. Add ½ tsp. of the xanthan gum and reprocess until it thickens and looks gooey. Place in a bowl, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, depending on the temperature of your room. Mozzarella has a mild flavor, so be careful not to let it sit out too long lest it develop a tang. You want it to develop some flavor and depth, but still be mild.

In the evening or the next day
Place the cheese back in the blender. Dissolve the agar agar flakes by mixing with the water in a small pot and bringing to a boil; allow to simmer, stirring with a whisk, for several minutes until completely dissolved. Pour the agar agar into the blender and blend until completely incorporated. To achieve a “stretchier” consistency, add an additional ¼ to ½ tsp. xanthan gum.

Forming the Balls
Have ready a bowl filled with a quart or so of cold water and 1 tsp. salt. Immediately after blending, use a small ice cream scoop to form little balls of the soft cheese; drop into the water. They will harden almost instantaneously. Refrigerate for up to one week.

*If you are celiac or wheat-allergic, try replacing the Rejuvelac with a probiotic mix of ¾ tsp. of New Chapter Probiotics dissolved in 1 cup warm water, and use half of that for this recipe. I have a theory that this may produce a more mild sharpness—so I plan to experiment with this change as well.

Vi Zahajszky, originally from Hungary, Boston, and New York, drove across the country to San Francisco two years ago with her husband Chris and a rescue pup named The Bandit. Here, among other things, she’s studying fashion design and pattern-making, and making many delicious vegan meals!

[photos by Vi and Chris]

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