Take Your Vegan Cheesemaking to a New Level

Real, rich, cultured non-dairy cheese is possible with Karen McAthy’s ‘The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking’

The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking: How to Craft Real, Cultured, Non-Dairy Cheese’ by Karen McAthy © 2017 New Society Publishers. Photo: Alicia Kennedy

A lifetime of lactose intolerance can give one quite a queasy relationship to dairy, even vegan dairy. At least that’s been the case for me, where anything vaguely cheesy gives me a sense of impending doom. For this reason, I’ve been more intellectually interested in the evolution of nut-based cheeses than I have been actually compelled to make or consume them.

Still, I have done my fair share of experimentation. What have I found to be the best resource for experimenting with your own nut cheeses? Hands-down, it’s Karen McAthy’s The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking: How to Craft Real, Cultured, Non-Dairy Cheese.

McAthy runs Blue Heron Creamery in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she puts out some of the most stunning rind cheeses available anywhere in the world. She began her journey in cheesemaking while a chef at a local vegan restaurant called Graze, where she was able to learn the difference between “cheeze” and true cultured cheeses, which she goes over at length in the book, which is clearly written despite its in-depth look at the science of what goes on when cultures combine with nuts, seeds, and legumes to become something new altogether.

“This book sets out to explore the development of plant-based cheeses as a legitimate evolution of cheesemaking itself,” she writes, and this is why the book is so useful to anyone who wants to understand the precise ways in which traditional dairy cheesemaking and non-dairy cheesemaking intersect in technique and where they diverge. She also explains where culturing is necessary, such as in making a brie-style cheese with internal creaminess, and that kind of honest transparency about how much one can expect certain recipes to precisely mimic dairy is a refreshing departure.

The best vegan cheesemakers, in my view, are the ones who seek to make non-dairy cheese a style of cheesemaking in its own right, viewed without the constant comparison to dairy but recognized as something different.

McAthy provides background on some of the most popular ingredients used in vegan cheesemaking, such as agar and tapioca starch, and gives a guide to making various culturing agents, from rejuvelac to coconut, cashew, and almond kefir, to probiotic capsules and even sauerkraut brine. Many of the recipes include options for different ones, depending on what one has on hand.

If you’ve been curious about how to make more advanced vegan cheeses at home, this is the right book. From in-depth cleanliness and safety guides to instruction on how to develop a rind and air-dry cheeses, McAthy guides the reader from the simple to the complex with ease and scientific precision.

I’m a food writer from Long Island based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter on food issues: aliciakennedy.substack.com

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