Plant-based Cheddar Cheese (Revisited)

Last time I made Michelle Blackwood’s Vegan Cheddar Cheese, I lamented about the ratio of agar powder to water.

Well, tonight I decided to try the recipe again, as it is a good recipe, just not my all-time favorite so far. And, I’ll stand by my thoughts on the agar powder ratio, and my final verdict, again!

But, just to help you get inspired, I’ve taken a few more pictures on my journey tonight.

To recap, here’s Michelle’s recipe:

Vegan Cheddar Cheese

Prep Time10 mins
Total Time2 hrs 10 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cheese
Calories: 118kcal
Author: Michelle Blackwood

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water for mixing with agar powder
  • 2 tablespoons agar powder or 2 teaspoons kappa carrageenan
  • 1/2 cup water for mixing with other ingredients
  • 1/2 cup cashews raw
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper chopped, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil optional
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon non-gmo cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch Cayenne pepper optional

Instructions

  • If using a high-speed blender, add water, cashews, bell pepper, nutritional yeast flakes, lemon juice, coconut milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, cornstarch, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.
  • Process until smooth and creamy.
  • Mix cold water with agar powder in a saucepan, bring to boil on medium stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat and immediately add to cheese sauce.
  • Process until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into an oiled container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • Alternatively, especially when using a regular blender, process all the ingredients including agar powder in a blender until smooth. Pour sauce into a non-stick sauce on medium heat whisking constantly until thick and bubbly. Immediately pour into an oiled container and refrigerate for an hour.

Notes

I find the consistency of the method using the high-speed blender better. This recipe is not like storebought processed vegan cheese. So it’s not as firm. Yes, it slices and shreds but not like storebought and tastes amazing!
The recipe calls for agar powder, if using agar flakes, use 3 times the amount instead.
If you prefer a sharper flavor then add extra lemon juice

I was making a double-batch, as I do have a large blending container, and if I’m going to go through the work and mess to make it happen, I might as well make enough to matter! And, although not awesome, it does freeze “okay.” So if I don’t use it, in the freezer it’ll go!

Doubling each ingredient (except that coconut oil, which I again avoided, and the first water and agar powder listed), I added them to my blender container and blended for about 1 minute, starting off at slow, but quickly working up to high.

Plant-Based Cheddar ingredients
All ingredients added to high-speed blender and blended about a minute.

Next, I heated the agar (which I forgot to double, but, forgetting that I had the agar/water ratio problem, added another tablespoon for good measure. So I had 3 T of agar powder and 1 cup of water.

Heating the agar powder and water, stirring almost constantly.

Once the agar mixture was super goopy, I added it to the blender, and blended for about a minute again. Previously, I had prepared my tiny loaf pans to create my cheese blocks. I still love my idea of lining the loaf pans with plastic wrap, and can’t understand why you’d do it any other way! It makes for super easy cleanup; just fold the plastic wrap neatly over the cheese, and turn upside down to dump out!

Tiny loaf tins lined with plastic wrap.
Tiny loaf tins lined with plastic wrap for easy cheese wrapping and cleanup!

Working quickly once the blender stopped, I poured the goopy cheese into my loaf pans, and then simply popped them into the refrigerator.

Cheesey loaf ready to set!
Many cheesey loafs ready to set!

This was fun, and I was excited that my double recipe created 4 loaves! But, then I got to wondering, would that coconut oil really make a noticeable difference?

Now, here at the Plant-based Bear, we don’t use oils, really, at all. But the recipe calls for the coconut oil. Why put the ingredient in there for no reason, as I’ve had success without it? And, the amount of oil is quite high. But, against my instincts (or perhaps just resolve) I decided to do it anyway.

(The Plant-based Bear doesn’t use oils at home, in general, but acknowledges they’re almost impossible to not have when dining out. So, from time to time I do have some oil, although I still try to avoid oily foods and everything deep-fried. I guess this was to be one of those times.)

After repeating the whole process for my new batch and then waiting for everything to get cooled in the refrigerator, it was taste-test time!

I neatly folded over the plastic wrap, then turned over and dropped the loaf out of the pan. For longer storage, I still keep everything in zipper bags, or airtight storage containers in the fridge.

Neatly fold the plastic wrap over the loaf, and then lift out of the pan, and turn over!
It’s ready!
The no-coconut-oil cheese seems fine, and slices easily, and tastes great! Notice more bubbles, particularly in the shadows.
The coconut-oil-included cheese looks about the same, but slightly lighter in color (which probably has nothing to do with anything), but seems a bit smoother, with fewer air pockets.
Closeup of coconut-oil cheese to show a slightly smoother, less bubbly cheese, than without the coconut oil.

The coconut-oil cheese tastes identical, however, it does seem to have a smoother, less bubbly texture. The mouth feel is the same, although it’s slightly smoother there, too, more like Velveeta or something. It’s also possible I simply blended this batch a little bit longer.

So, to coconut oil, or not to coconut oil? NOT! The Plant-based Bear will still continue to NOT use oil as much as possible, and this experiment proved, that again, it’s simply not necessary for the amount of downsides.

Now, I have 8 little loaves of cheese for my upcoming weekend trip. I realize that sounds like I’ll only be eating cheese all weekend! But, I will take a couple of loaves on my trip, along with some homemade whole-wheat bread to makes sandwiches or whatever! Delicious!

PBB
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread

Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread

Jenn, over at Veggie Inspired has a great recipe for a Veggie Cream Cheese Spread, that, the moment I saw it, I knew I had to try it! It contained all kinds of things that sounded great and like they’d work well together. But, nothing screamed “cream cheese” to me, so I figured I’d like what I made, but not think it was cream cheese.

I. Was. So. Wrong!

I’m not sure what is in Jenn’s recipe that gives it the flavor it does, but if I had to guess, it’s that apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice. In fact, the recipe reeks of the ACV all the way through, and, to me, smells rather nasty. But, by the time you add all the veggies at the end, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator (if you can wait that long), it’s nothing short of amazing, and just what I remember a good garden cream cheese spread should taste like! Combined with some Pretzel Crisps, it makes an incredible summer afternoon snack!

Check out Jenn’s recipe here (if you haven’t already clicked, had your mouth start watering, and forgotten about me!)

Or, find below, almost verbatim, with my modifications and notes:

Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread (Dairy Free)

Creamy and tangy with bits of fresh veggies throughout, this dairy free cream cheese is perfect on bagels or toast, as a spread in sandwiches or wraps, or as a dip for crackers or raw vegetables.
Prep Time12 hrs
Course: Breakfast, Breakfast, Dip, Sauce/Spread, Sauce/Spread
Servings: 16 people
Author: Jenn Sebestyen @ VeggieInspired.com

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups raw cashews soaked in water for several hours or overnight, drained and rinsed (Or not. See PBB Notes below.)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 2-3 tbsp water
  • ¼ cup shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup diced bell pepper Orange, red, yellow or green, or all four!
  • 2 tbsp diced green onion
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

Instructions

  • Be sure your cashews have soaked for several hours, or ideally, overnight. The longer they soak, the creamier your cream cheese will be. After soaking, drain and rinse the cashews.
  • To the bowl of a food processor, add the soaked cashews, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, onion powder, paprika, and garlic powder. Start to process to break up the cashews. You'll need to stop the food processor and scrape down the sides frequently to keep the mixture moving. Add the water 1 tbsp at a time until it comes together into a smooth spread. Be patient as this could take 5-10 minutes.
  • Once it’s smooth, transfer to a mixing bowl and add the carrots, red pepper, green onion, parsley, and dill. Stir to combine.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or a tiny splash of vinegar or lemon juice, if necessary.
  • Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and store in the fridge. It will set up and thicken slightly as it sits in the fridge and gets cold. You could eat it right away, but it’s better cold.

Notes

Don’t let the prep time for this recipe scare you. It’s all hands off, but the cashews must be soaked for SEVERAL hours, ideally overnight, to create a super smooth texture. In fact, your hands on time will only be about 10-15 minutes.
Plant-based-Bear.com Notes:
If you have a high speed blender, I’ve had success without soaking, but adding a bit more water. Remember that soaking will increase the mass of the cashews, so in my head I tried to figure out how many cashews, and how much water I think they might have absorbed. In my case, I was suddenly doubling a recipe I hadn’t planned on doubling, so added non-soaked cashews and about 4-5 T of extra water to let them absorb it. It worked perfectly.
In fact, I heartily recommend the high-speed blender.  Jenn’s food processor must be better than mine, as I really couldn’t ever seem to get the right consistency with the food processor alone, even while only using soaked cashews. So, I like my high speed blender to make sure everything gets creamy, but it can still take a few minutes.  I’d highly recommend doubling the recipe if using a large high speed blender though, as this should really help you get a creamy spread without near as much “scrape down.”  And, this spread is so amazing, you’ll easily eat double before it spoils!
I also recommend being quite generous on the last 5 ingredients, the veggies!  I haven’t gone wrong with having heaping tablespoons and 1/4 cups!
There also hasn’t been any need for me to “adjust” the flavoring at the end, but your taste may vary!
My spread has been orange-tinted and soupy when freshly-prepared, but after a sit in the refrigerator overnight, it seems to have a lighter color and tastes incredible!
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread on a Pretzel Crisp!
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread disappearing before my very eyes!
Plant-based Garden Cream Cheese Spread
The first attempt at this spread, but didn’t have any chips or bagels, so toasted sourdough had to do!
PBB
Plant-based Cheddar Cheese

Plant-Based Cheddar Cheese

I’ve now tried several recipes for a plant-based cheese, and although I really do like my Plant-Based Sharp Cheddar recipe, I’m still on the hunt for the “perfect” plant-based cheese!

As I search through cheese recipes, most of them are variations of the same theme, which doesn’t mean I won’t try them, but I expect similar results and maybe not a solution to downsides of other recipes I’ve tried. But, this one from Michelle Blackwood over at Healthier Steps, caught my eye as it included some different ingredients that I thought might help make the cheese more firm and perhaps more, uh, cheese-like, or having the same feeling, texture, and type of cutting of a real cheddar. The tapioca starch (or flour) and the cornstarch could make it more interesting!

Recently I’ve been using this agar powder, which is about as good of a price and quality I’ve yet been able to find. It is working great in all of the other cheese recipes. However, the amount of agar (2 T) in Michelle’s recipe seems a bit high, particularly for a 1/2 cup of water. For comparison, my Plant-Based Sharp Cheddar recipes uses 1 T of agar powder to 1 cup water. I would think that Michelle just made a simple mistake and has Tablespoons, instead of teaspoons, but she does properly list 2 teaspoons kappa carrageenan as an alternative, and doubles-down on the amounts of agar powder and water in the comments when some said their cheeses were too soft.

I followed the recipe, only doubling the lemon juice, but, due to the Plant-based Bear not using oil, just skipped the coconut oil in the recipe entirely. I’m not sure how this might affect things, but the cheese turned out fine and didn’t need additional oil, at least from a non-stick angle. All was well…

…Until I started making that agar/water mixture. I couldn’t even begin to dissolve 2 T of agar powder into the 1/2 cup water, and got a gluey ball that wouldn’t at all be able to be brought to a boil. I tried adding just a SMALL amount more water, but that wasn’t enough to make a difference either. I wasn’t measuring my added water, but I’d imagine I ended up with a cup and a half of water or more to make a rather thick agar paste I could bring to a boil. I poured it into the other mixture and blended as instructed.

I have a number of “tiny loaf” pans that I use for making cheese, and instead of oiling up, I simply line them with plastic wrap, leaving excess in place, extending beyond the pan. This makes things non-stick, super easy to clean up, and I can wrap the resulting cheeses in the extra wrap. I bought my 1-cup tiny loaf pans years ago, and can’t for the life of me find any more, but this pan would also be similar. For this recipe, I can make three “loaves” of cheese.

The Healthier Steps original Vegan Cheddar Cheese recipe is below:

Vegan Cheddar Cheese

Prep Time10 mins
Total Time2 hrs 10 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cheese
Calories: 118kcal
Author: Michelle Blackwood

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water for mixing with agar powder
  • 2 tablespoons agar powder or 2 teaspoons kappa carrageenan
  • 1/2 cup water for mixing with other ingredients
  • 1/2 cup cashews raw
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper chopped, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil optional
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon non-gmo cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch Cayenne pepper optional

Instructions

  • If using a high-speed blender, add water, cashews, bell pepper, nutritional yeast flakes, lemon juice, coconut milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, cornstarch, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.
  • Process until smooth and creamy.
  • Mix cold water with agar powder in a saucepan, bring to boil on medium stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat and immediately add to cheese sauce.
  • Process until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into an oiled container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • Alternatively, especially when using a regular blender, process all the ingredients including agar powder in a blender until smooth. Pour sauce into a non-stick sauce on medium heat whisking constantly until thick and bubbly. Immediately pour into an oiled container and refrigerate for an hour.

Notes

I find the consistency of the method using the high-speed blender better. This recipe is not like storebought processed vegan cheese. So it’s not as firm. Yes, it slices and shreds but not like storebought and tastes amazing!
The recipe calls for agar powder, if using agar flakes, use 3 times the amount instead.
If you prefer a sharper flavor then add extra lemon juice

The results were okay. I think my “pinch of cayenne” was rather large, so my cheese was a bit spicy, and it definitely was more firm than other cheese recipes (probably due to the “excess” agar.) But I didn’t find it dramatically different or better, and it still looks about the same. It’s still more of a “Velveeta” consistency, rather than a typical hard dairy cheese.

I’ll have to try it again soon, with what I’ve learned, and then maybe publish a Plant-based Bear edit!

I did slice the cheese up, and pair with Pretzel Crisps, fresh veggies, and some home-made hummus to take to a get-together, and everyone loved it!

Michelle has some real interesting things on her site, so I do encourage you check it out if you like Jamaican, Asian, and/or Cajun flavors.

PBB
Plant-based Cheddar Cheese, Veggies, Hummus and Pretzel Crisps!