By now, even the semi-sleepy among us know that some people don’t eat dairy. There are lots of reasons for this, which deserve a post of their own. So, while some people have been dipping and spreading to their hearts’ content, folks who have jumped off the dairy train have seemingly been destined to miss the tanginess, creaminess and umami-ness of a rich soft spreadable cheese.
As we recently reported, fortunately, there are now companies that make dairy-free cultured products equal to the best dairy versions (cheese and ice cream). But, since they don’t (yet) distribute everywhere, or may be budget breakers, or you just have the urge to make it yourself, this simple recipe should do the trick. Using soaked cashews and a starter of unflavored coconut yogurt, it takes less than 15 minutes of total prep time (ok, it’s over a few days) and allows you to get exactly the taste you’re after without any added fillers, preservatives, or other things you don’t want.
This recipe makes plain cream cheese and gives two variations for flavoring: Garlic and Herb and Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil. We suspect that after trying this a few times, you will find lots of ways to use this delicious cheese spread, making dairy cream cheese a distant memory.
2 Cups Raw Cashews (pieces or whole)
½ Cup Water
2 tbsp. Non-Dairy Yogurt (we use So Delicious Coconut-Based – Plain)
Pinch of Salt
Soak the Nuts
Soak 2 cups raw cashew for 8 hours (overnight is easiest) and drain. We use cashew pieces rather than whole cashews since they are less costly and we are blending them anyway. Some people use a mixture of other types of seeds and nuts to vary the taste of the finished product. When first starting out with this process, we think cashews are the easiest.
Blend the Ingredients
This works best if you have a high-speed blender. If not, be sure the nuts are thoroughly soaked since the blender may not make the end product as creamy. Place the nuts in the blender container with the ½ cup water, 2 tbsp. non-dairy yogurt (we use So Delicious Coconut-Based – Plain) and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth and creamy.
When the mixture is creamy, transfer it to a clean glass bowl or jar. Cover with cheesecloth, or other light cloth such as muslin, or even a coffee filter to keep the surface covered and dust, etc. off of the cheese. If the cheese is a bit wet, you can also wrap in cheesecloth and hang to drain if necessary. Allow to culture on the counter-top at room temperature for 24-48 hours or even a day longer as long as you keep checking the flavor. The warmer the room, the faster it will culture. Taste after 24 hours – when it’s finished, it should be tangy, just like dairy cream cheese. NOTE: After gaining some experience with the process, you can try substituting other starter cultures for the yogurt, such as sauerkraut or pickle juice.
Flavoring the Cheese
Once the cheese is cultured and it tastes tangy, you can use it immediately like any cream cheese product, either as a delicious spread or in many recipes. A crust may have formed over the top layer, which is fine to eat as long as there is no mold on it. You can also flavor the cheese to create an herbal cheese spread that is incredibly yummy on crackers, veggies, and more. The following are two flavor ideas but you can be creative:
Garlic and Herbs: To the cream cheese, add 1-2 crushed garlic cloves, 3 tbsp. fresh chopped herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, chives or your favorites) or 1 tsp. dried herbs (herbs d’provence, Italian, etc.) plus salt and pepper to taste. Allow to chill for 4 hours for best flavor.
Sun Dried Tomato Basil: To the cream cheese, add 2-3 tbsps. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 2 tbsps. fresh chopped basil (or 1 tsp. dried) plus salt and pepper to taste. Allow to chill for 4 hours for best flavor.
NOTE: You can also add the herbs and flavorings to the cheese before it cultures. We usually add the flavorings afterward so we have more versatility with the cream cheese. That way, we can even use it in sweet recipes, like our scrumptious non-dairy cheesecake.
Makes about 3 cups. This will store for a few weeks in the refrigerator… if it lasts that long.