Many vegans will attest that, of all the animal products they used to eat, cheese was the toughest to give up. The Examiner has asked many vegans over the past year if cheese was the last thing to go, and over 80 percent said yes. Why? No one is really sure. Is it because we Americans put cheese on so many things that it is just deeply engrained in our culture? Or is there just something about cheese?
It must be that there is something about cheese since “vegan cheese” is becoming an ever-larger art form. This week, in the vegan kitchen of the Brighton (CO) Examiner, the updated recipe of Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese was put to the test in three ways: as the original Pepper Jack recipe chilled overnight and shredded over burritos; the cheese, made without the peppers and served hot as a spread on crackers and flat bread; chilled overnight and served as part of the vegan kitchen’s new Vegan Quickie Carbonara. Success is an appropriate word to describe all three culinary adventures.
The Examiner used a recipe created by Somer McCowan of Salt Lake City, UT. McCowan is the owner and creator of the website Vedged Out; she says the site isn’t a major source of income for her, but rather, a labor of love. It includes vegan recipes of all sorts, including artisan cheeses. McCowan, who went vegan seven years ago for health reasons, has since expanded the scope of her vegan mission to include supporting and end to cruelty to animals and to improve planetary health through promoting veganism. She is currently working on her first cookbook.
Vedged Out’s Pepperjack recipe was chosen for this review because this type of cheese is a popular compliment to many Mexican-inspired dished that are loved by Coloradoans, and also because the ingredients are easy to find at any Metro Denver grocery store. The never-ending need for cheese, be it dairy-based or not, seems to go without saying.
The Pepperjack recipe is simple to follow and the end result is a mix that honestly does taste like cheese and which has a cheesey texture. It melts well and can also be shredded as easily as conventional, dairy-based Pepperjack. “Pepperjack” is simply Monterey Jack Cheese with jalapeño or green chili peppers mixed into it. The peppers are entirely the chef’s choice. The Examiner recommends that a person prepare the recipe at least once before attempting to serve it as a pretty dish for guests they want to impress. The cheese will taste wonderful on the first attempt at making it, but shaping it into pretty pieces may take a couple of tries.
One simply has to get comfortable with the steps of the recipe and the behavior of the particular blender that will be used. The blending steps should be done at higher speeds. Do note that the recipe calls on the cook to pour boiling mixture into the blender, and says to ignore warnings by the blender’s manufacturer not to do this. The Examiner used a blender that had a glass carafe as opposed to a plastic carafe that many blenders have. The recipe preparer must proceed at his or her own risk, especially if using a blender with a plastic carafe.
The recipe calls for the following ingredients:
Updated Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese
By Somer McCowan, furnished by Vedged Out (used with permission)
§ 1/2 package Pomona’s Pectin (must use this brand! Otherwise it won’t set!)
§ 1 C. water
§ 1 C. raw cashews
§ 2 T. lemon juice
§ 2 T. nutritional yeast
§ 1 t. sea salt
§ 1/2 t. onion powder
§ 1 t. garlic powder
§ 1/2 to 2 t. crushed red pepper flakes (depending on your heat-o-meter)
§ 1 t. agar powder (optional, makes for an even firmer cheese)
§ you can also quickly stir in some added some canned green chilies and pimientos just before putting in containers to set, but doing so will cause the cheese to have a bit of a shorter shelf life.
Examiner’s note: You’ll need a conventional blender or equivalent food processor and a muffin tin with a capacity for at least six muffins. The Examiner found the recommended brand of Pectin at Sprouts Farmers Market. Makign this recipe without the peppers creates an excellent sauce for vegan spaghetti carbonara.
Recipe preparation as stated on Vedged Out (reproduced with permission)
§ Use your blender to combine 1/2 package of the dry pectin (about 4.5 teaspoons) and the agar powder (optional) with the water and lemon juice. Pour water mixture into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat while stirring constantly. Set to low heat and let simmer while you grind cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder and onion powder until very fine in food processor or with your Estrogen (Blendtec) or Testosterone (Vitamix) Blender. Do not over process and make nut butter.
§ Mix 1/2 C. water (not included in amount above list) with the small calcium packet from the pomona’s pectin package, set aside. Pour the boiled water mixture over the ground cashew mixture into the power blender, ignoring instructions in your blender manual that say not to use boiling water in it. Blend until smooth and creamy. It’s gonna thicken quickly, so immediately add HALF (1/4 C.) of the calcium water and the crushed red pepper flakes and pulse until all combined. Immediately pour the hot cheese into the prepared cupcake tin(s).
§ Refrigerate uncovered for an hour. Turn mini cashew cheeses out onto a plate (upside down) and let set uncovered in the fridge for another 4-5 hours. 1 serving of cashew cheese is half of one mini round, which is the perfect amount for 1 grilled cheese sandwich or 1 quesadilla. This recipe makes 12 servings of cheese. Don’t forget to store the rest of your pectin and calcium water for the next batch. Calcium water stores well in the fridge and the pectin will store in your pantry indefinitely. Cashew cheese keeps for about a week in the fridge and freezes well.