If I had a pound for every time someone said ‘oh but I couldn’t give up cheese’, then I would be rich! It is the most common difficulty people envision. Even though if you think about it logically, it’s a pretty foul product – concentrated cow breast milk and mold!
But cheese is delicious, there is no getting away from it. Savoury and salty, it hits the spot. It’s so addictive! And it is – literally. Casein, the main protein in milk, is concentrated in cheese. It’s a large protein so needs to get broken down to be absorbed, into a small protein called caseinogen. It’s small enough to cross the blood brain barrier (BBB), the layer that protects the brain from large molecules that can do damage. And goes straight to ping the dopamine receptors which in turn gives us pleasure. And like all addictive things, the more we have, the more we want. And the harder it is to do without!
But you can break the chains, it just takes a little while. And once you’re over it, you might wonder what made you want to eat it in the first place! I certainly take no delight in walking past a cheese counter these days – the smell is just foul!
Having said that, cheese is a cultural part of the way we eat in the West. So whilst I don’t want to eat it per se, it is nice to have a dairy-free alternative to use from time to time. The problem is that many products for sale in the supermarket have issues for many people like:
- Coconut oil or other highly refined oil
- Emulsifiers that damage gut lining
- They taste foul!
Fortunately, there are some simple cheese-like alternatives you can make at home. They’re not cheese of course, but a pretty good substitute. I have made a few different ones – today’s one is a good alternative to mozzarella or melty cheese. It’s adaptable too, so not only can you make it a different consistency for different purposes, but for also adapt for food intolerances or allergies.
The main base of this cheese is cashew nuts – soft, creamy and full of healthy fats. If you have an issue with nuts, sunflower seeds also work really well. They’re also slightly cheaper, so if your budget is tight, you needn’t go without.
Another key ingredients is a thickening agent – you can use cornflour, tapioca flour or arrowroot. Strictly speaking, these are refined products so don’t really hit the ‘whole food’ part, but they are useful to have in the cupboard. Cornflour produces a different texture to the others – it’s more solid. Tapioca definitely produces a soft, squashy texture. If you have all of them, have a play and see which you prefer. But if you only have one, then go for that! In the UK, cornflour is usually the cheapest option.
The more expensive element of this is nutritional yeast. As demand soars, so does the price. Good old economic principles of supply and demand kicking in there! Nutritional yeast provides a savoury, cheesy kind of flavour which does make a difference to the overall product. But if you don’t have any, the garlic powder and salt give a flavour of their own. But it won’t taste like cheese!
Adding herbs and flavourings into the base recipe is fun, as it gives you lots of different flavour options. If you add more water to the base mix, you’ll get a runnier, stretchy texture that is great for fondues or nachos. Add less water it will get very thick and once set you can slice and add to pizza, toast or anything else you want a mozzarella-style cheese for. You really can create a wide range of options with this just one recipe.
I made this cheese on my Friday live cooking session last week, but the recording cuts out in a few places – my dodgy internet playing up – so I’ve not downloaded it to Youtube. If you want to watch it though, you can see it here.
Here is the full recipe with a couple of photos to help you along the way. I hope you give this a go – if you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!
- Small saucepan
- Small dish or round mould
- 80 grams cashew nuts or sunflower seeds
- 200 ml water
- 4 tbsp cornflour/tapioca flour/arrowroot
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic granules and/or
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric and/or
- 1/4 tsp paprika/smoked paprika and/or
- 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
- Soak the cashew nuts or sunflower seeds in water for 2 hours to soften.Drain and rinse
- Place the nuts or seeds into a blender jug. Add water -the more water you add, the softer and stickier the cheese. I used 150ml for the one in the picture that set. If you want a dipping/nachos/pizza cheese, add 200ml.
- Add the cornflour/tapicoa/arrowroot, nutritional yeast, salt and spice or herbs if using. Blend for 5-10 seconds until smooth
- Pour into a small pan and place over a medium heat. Stir constantly - it thickens rapidly. Use a whisk to stop lumps from forming then use a wooden spoon once it gets super thick and stuck in the whisk.
- Keep stirring over a medium heat until the mix becomes super gloopy and starts to lift away from the bottom of the pan. Once it's done this, turn off the heat.
- If you have made a stringy cheese for pizza/dipping/nachos, serve immediately whilst warm. If you want a set cheese, line the small dish with some non-stick baking paper (I also sprinkled some herbs on the bottom) and pour in the warm cheese sauce. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Once set, remove the cheese from the fridge, tip out of the dish and peel away the non-stick paper. Slice as use as desired. Store in a lidded container in the fridge for up to 4 days.