Say ‘vegan cheese’

Vegan alternatives to cheese made from animal milks have been around for more than 20 years, although supermarkets have only recently begun to sell them. Sheese, made by Bute Island Foods, has long been a favourite of mine, especially the more strongly flavoured varieties such as the Mature Cheddar style. Nevertheless, vegan ‘cheeses’ are regularly rubbished by cookery writers, perhaps because the presence of soya protein and modified starch lends them an ersatz reputation. Other companies such as Violife have developed soya-free ‘cheeses’ based on coconut oil (I understand that Bute Island Foods are making a similar switch), and their blocks, wedges, spreads and sliced products in a variety of flavours can be found in several major supermarket chains as well as branches of Holland & Barrett and independent health food stores.

Though undeniably convenient and increasingly popular, vegan ‘cheeses’ are processed foods with a high saturated fat content (typically around 20% by weight), comparable to and in some cases higher than the quantities found in dairy cheeses, so they should not be regarded as ‘health foods’. However, the cruelty inherent in dairy farming is a high price to pay for the ‘real thing’ (http://animalaid.wpengine.com/the-issues/our-campaigns/animal-farming/suffering-farmed-cattle/).

If you dislike shop bought vegan ‘cheeses’ why not try making your own? Brenda Davis, registered dietitian and co-author of several books including Becoming Vegan, recommends the following sites: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/10-vegan-cheeses-that-will-knock-your-socks-off/ (which she describes as a great site for vegans) and http://www.veganfoodandliving.com/23-best-ever-vegan-cheese-recipes/. Brenda’s recipe for Nutty Cream Cheese can be found on her website at: http://www.brendadavisrd.com/nutty-cream-cheese/.

In her Spring 2018 newsletter, Lizzy Hughes of Our Lizzy cookery school (www.ourlizzy.com) extols the virtues of nutritional yeast, which she describes as “a really versatile store cupboard ingredient”. Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast, the yeast flakes having “a cheesy nutty taste (making it) an ideal condiment for anything savoury or sweet, from soups to stews, cereals to smoothies.” The main supplier in the UK is Marigold Health Foods, whose Engevita is a high protein, low fat food that is a significant source of several B-complex vitamins including vitamin B-12 (one 5 gram serving supplies 2.2 micrograms B-12, equivalent to 88% of the Nutrient Reference Value, the recommended minimum daily intake). Lizzy uses nutritional yeast to make a dairy-free cheesy sauce, using the following recipe, for which you will need:
· Approximately 50g vegan margarine
· 50g plain white flour
· 600ml soya or other plant milk
· 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
· Salt and pepper to season
Melt the margarine in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and add about a third of the plant milk. Beat well to avoid lumps, a hand whisk may be used. Place the pan back on the heat. Gradually add the rest of the milk, stir well. Add the nutritional yeast. Season to taste. (For a gluten-free version put 2 tbsp corn flour into a small jug or bowl and mix to a paste with about 5 tbsp of the milk. Heat the remaining milk in a saucepan until nearly boiling. Add the corn flour mixture. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Cook for two minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add the nutritional yeast and season well.)

Paul Appleby (with thanks to Lizzy Hughes and Brenda Davis)

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