Last week, I made my first venture into the world of homemade vegan cheese. I've been researching, poring over Miyoko Schinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook, watching countless tutorials, slowly acquiring weird ingredients (beet lactic acid powder? agar agar?) and finally took the plunge. Don't get me wrong; I love Daiya, Follow Your Heart and Trader Joe's vegan cheeses! However, now that I know how simple, cost-effective and delicious homemade vegan cheese can be, I will make my own moving forward.
I tested out three mozzarella recipes to get a feel for the process and my options. Each recipe utilized a different "base" -- different combinations of pureed nuts, non-dairy yogurt, aquafaba, and oil. All recipes all called for tapioca flour/starch, which lends a stretchy, gooey quality to the cheeses. Finally, each recipe required either powdered agar agar (derived from algae) or kappa carrageenan (from seaweed), which allow the cheese to gelatinize/harden when cooled, and "melt" when heated, just like real cheese. (NOTE: For anyone who prefers to avoid carrageenan, I have read that you may substitute in a larger amount of agar agar; however, I have not tested this.)
The first recipe I tested is "A Better Buffalo Mozzarella" from Miyoko Schinner's blog, "Artisan Vegan Life." In this recipe, soaked cashews pureed with non-dairy yogurt are set aside to culture to create an authentic, tangy flavor. Tapioca flour, salt and agar agar powder are added and the mixture is cooked until thick and glossy. Finally, the cheese is shaped and cooled until it firm, at which point it can be sliced or grated.
This recipe produced the middle cheese in the above image. For this and the next recipe, I chose to shape my mozzarella into balls by scooping it into iced saltwater. You may also pour the mixture into a mold to make a wheel or block of cheese, which is what I will most likely do in the future just for ease.
This was the only recipe that used agar agar (rather than carrageenan) and this yielded an extremely soft, spreadable cheese that is not firm enough to grate. The creamy texture is quite similar to ricotta, and it also looks like ricotta when crumbled over a pizza or lasagna and slightly browned. The overnight culture brings out the tanginess of the yogurt (in my case, coconut yogurt) but the flavor is still mild like authentic mozzarella. You can detect the cashews if you eat it alone or use a lot of it in a dish, but this doesn't bother me, and in fact I like that it tastes like real food -- a huge departure from the artificial flavor of more commercial vegan cheese brands.
What appeals to me most about this recipe is that it contains no refined oil -- the fats come from the whole cashews. Further, I see the potential for a lot of experimentation by using different nuts and yogurts, and possibly adding herbs and spices. This is the recipe I will most likely continue to tweak in my own kitchen.
I also have Miyoko's genius to thank for the second recipe I tested. You can find the recipe and a video tutorial on Everyday Dish. This one requires the fewest ingredients. Non-dairy yogurt, a neutral vegetable oil and salt are cultured, then cooked with tapioca starch and kappa carrageenan, shaped and cooled.
See, above, the result of this recipe. The carageenan made it extremely firm, amenable to slicing and grating. This cheese smelled eerily similar to real mozzarella, but the flavor itself was the mildest of the three recipes. For this trial, I could not really taste the cheese unless I ate it alone. If I were to attempt this recipe again, I might culture it for 2 days or add some lactic acid powder to impart a stronger flavor. However, this would not be my go-to recipe.
The final recipe comes from the Avocados and Ales blog and utilizes the sorcery of aquafaba -- the liquid from cooked chickpeas. This recipe required the most ingredients: soaked cashews, salt, nutritional yeast, refined coconut oil, lactic acid powder (I ordered mine online; it is sourced from beets rather than dairy), kappa carrageenan and tapioca flour. Because this cheese contains no active cultures and instead relies on the lactic acid for the tangy cheese flavor, you can make it in one day. Simply puree everything together, cook, shape and cool. I chose to pour this mixture into a dish to make a small cheese wheel.
The texture of this cheese was my favorite by far. It is firm enough to be sliced and grated; however, it is still very creamy and spreadable at room temperature. This was also the most flavorful cheese; the combination of nutritional yeast and lactic acid made it both tangy and savory. However, I think the flavor might be a little too robust to be considered a mozzarella. This is a cheese I would absolutely make again, in wheel or block form, with addition of some garlic, onion powder and herbs for a vegan cheese and cracker platter. I would feel 100% confident taking this to a potluck or party and feeding it to non-vegans -- it's that good! However, it won't be my default cheese recipe for personal use because, as I mentioned, I prefer the idea of a nut and yogurt-based recipe with no refined oil.
My final thoughts: All three recipes have their merits! Per usual, I will combine my favorite elements from all three into my own perfect recipe.
From left to right: broiled cashew & yogurt mozzarella, yogurt mozzarella, aquafaba mozzarella