On a trip to Seattle this week I stopped by Vegan Haven, a market operated by Pigs Peace Sanctuary. San Francisco doesn’t have a vegan market (yet?), which makes it hard to get weird vegan stuff *, such as the handful of cultured vegan cheeses that have come out in the last year or so. I’d heard a lot about these cheeses, but had only tried the ones that I’ve made myself.
Cultured vegan cheese
Cultured vegan cheese is made by fermenting vegan foods (usually nuts, although sometimes soy) using a similar process used to make dairy cheese. This differs from the type of imitation cheese typically found at grocery stores (eg. Daiya) in that a real culturing process was used to give it a cheese-like taste, rather than synthetic flavoring or texturing. Cultured vegan cheese typically has few ingredients (the plain cheese below lists ingredients as: “organic cashews, water, culture, sea salt”), and does not typically attempt to imitate the texture of dairy cheese.
Vegan Haven had cultured cheeses available from two companies: Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline.
Both cheeses before opening
Punk Rawk Labs is a Minneapolis raw food company that makes cashew and macadamia nut cheeses in three flavors: plain, herb and smoked. I tried the plain cashew cheese, since this was closest to what I’ve tried to make.
Treeline is based in the Hudson River Valley in upstate NY. They make two soft cheeses: scallion and herb-garlic, and two hard cheeses: classic and cracked pepper. I’d have preferred a plain flavor, but only the scallion and herb-garlic flavors were available, so I tried the scallion cheese.
Punk Rawk Labs
Punk Rawk Labs Plain Cashew Cheese
First, I tried the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. It had a moist texture, hard enough that you could cut wedges out more or less intact, but soft enough to be spread on a cracker. I found the cheese to have a pleasant sharpness, and a saltiness that I think would be comparable to cheddar. I really enjoyed this cheese, and finished it in the two days we had left in Seattle.
Treeline Scallion Soft French-Style Nut Cheese
The Treeline cheese had a similar consistency, although was slightly drier. The taste seemed to be dominated by scallions, which made it hard to taste anything else. I never had much scallion dairy cheese, so I don’t have a good baseline for comparison. The cheese tasted less salty and less sharp than the Punk Rawk Labs cheese.
I liked the Punk Rawk Labs cheese a lot, and found myself craving it over the next few days. I preferred it to the Treeline cheese, partly because I prefer plain cheese over scallion flavored cheese, but I also liked the moist, sharp and salty qualities of the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. I’d love to try other Treeline flavors in the future, although I don’t foresee getting the scallion flavor again.
The plain Punk Rawk Labs cheese was also a useful point of comparison for my own attempts at cultured cashew cheese based on recipes from Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. The Punk Rawk Labs cheese seemed sharper and saltier than those that I’ve made. It tasted a lot like how my cheeses smelled when fermenting, which is really all I want in a vegan cheese. (My attempts tend to taste much more mild than they smell, unfortunately.)
I’m curious if they salt the cheese after it is cultured, since it’s rather salty and salt is said to inhibit bacterial growth. Punk Rawk Labs describes their process as culturing cashew milk and then removing moisture from the cheese, whereas the Artisan Vegan Cheese recipes involve culturing a cashew puree (a hummus-like consistency). I’m curious if this explains the difference in sharpness.
Overall, I was very happy with my first taste of commercial cultured vegan cheeses, and I’m inspired to try making them again.
* While looking up these companies for this post, I’ve learned that both Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline cheeses are available in SF at Rainbow Grocery, a great vegetarian food coop with a great selection of vegan paraphernalia (non-dairy milks, vegan supplements, etc).