I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cheese: A Vegan Cheese Making Workshop

This week I went to a vegan cheese making workshop at The Depanneur on College West in Toronto. The Deppaneur – or ‘Dep’ – is a community kitchen where “interesting food things happen”, like workshops, resident chefs and talks about food, as well as a lively weekend brunch (which is surely on my Toronto to-do list).

I’ve always wanted to know how to make vegan cheeses and I was quite curious about them. I wondered if they would be like dips – just whipped up nuts and some herbs. Would we use cheese cloths? Would they taste like cheese? Would they be yummy?

The workshop was taught by Emily Zimmerman, who had laid out classic vegetarian and vegan cookbooks for us on the table to keep us busy until everyone arrived. Emily — the lady behind Pear and Pepper — is a Toronto-based freelance chef that cooks up deluxe vegan dishes and treats.

Emily Zimmerman

Emily Zimmerman

Emily started by explaining the basic ingredients needed to make vegan cheeses: nuts, seeds, nut and /or coconut milk/ yogurt, starches to get the creamy, stretchy consistency, herbs and flavorings. The secret for getting the cheese-like look and feel is truly the starches – such as liquid smoke or roasted red peppers. Tapioca, potato and arrowroot starch were all on the counter and Emily explained how they all work in different ways. Her advice: experiment with the different starches and see what works.

We made about 5 different types of vegan cheeses, including an amazing creamy, cheesy sauce that would make the perfect pouring for a baked potato or steamed cauliflower or pasta for tasty (I imagine) mac and cheese. Yum! The sauce’s main ingredient was nutritional yeast, which has a high amount of  b-vitamins and does taste a bit like cheese on its own.

vegan smoked cheese (like gouda)

vegan smoked cheese (like gouda)

Perhaps the easiest cheese we made that night was vegan feta. What you do is take firm tofu, 1) chop it, 2) soak it in equal parts water and vinegar over night or for 8 hours and 3) then place the bowl in a fridge for about 5 days. 4) Then strain off the vinegar-water mixture, rinse the tofu to get rid of the pungent vinegar taste and 5) coat the tofu pieces with olive oil and some fresh chives and sea salt. The vinegar gives the tofu that feta-like tang. Simple and wonderful.

vegan cheese making

soak the tofu in vinegar and water for feta-like tofu

We ended the workshop with a meal complete with the many different cheeses: mozzarella-style cheese made with coconut milk, a smoked cheese similar to a smoked gouda, a hemp seed and kombucha cheese that reminded me of parmesan and of course the cheese sauce for our piping-hot baked potatoes.

vegan cheese making

a feast after the workshop – we were quite lucky!

I’m a fan! Vegan cheeses are certainly expensive to buy, but I can’t wait to begin experimenting and creating my own recipes. I really see them becoming more popular in the future as more and more people turn to a plant-based diet.

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