I used to blog about food: in particular, I used to blog vegan recipes. Apparently, veganism is a bit of a trend at the moment: Beyoncé has given it a whirl and famous full-time vegans include Joaquin Phoenix, Alec Baldwin and Prince, Natalie Portman, Grace Slick and Morrissey.
I’ve been a vegan for years – difficult to tell how long as I have never wilfully eaten meat, although I was a wilful child when confronted with it. I grew up with pheasants hanging in the kitchen, and I was regularly confronted with the feather flying, gut pulling, nauseating down burning routine which followed until the meat arrived on my plate, punctured with little hard bits of shot. It didn’t go down well.
I came from a meat eating family: my mother made a great potato pie with the scrag ends of meat; my Dad brought home pheasants and rabbits: my grandmother baked hedgehogs in clay. My being a vegan is a something of a disappointment.
I am a quieter vegan nowadays: I invite people to eat single meals without meat and enjoy the cooking rather than shout slogans about animal abuse. Of course, I respect all life and don’t eat, wear or use any animal produce, but I also respect free will.
I have lots of friends who aren’t vegans but enjoy vegan food and the thing I hear most frequently is ‘I’ couldn’t be vegan: I could give up meat but I love cheese too much.’
Cheese is ubiquitous on the table: cheeses with wine, cheeses with fruit or cheese board with biscuits: goat’s cheese, sheep’s cheese, hard cheese, garlic cheese, Pont L’Eveque, Haloumi, Brebis, Gruyère, Boursin, Mozzarella. A cheese lover relishes such cheeses to cook with, to savour, to share, and most vegan cheeses are ok, some are even quite pleasant, but your average French gourmand would turn up a wrinkled nose and say something like ‘caoutchouc’ or ‘merde.’
I have spent a few months working out how to make my own vegan cheese and the results are surprisingly good. I can make a reasonable cheddar, with herbs and beer too, and a passable boursin, a fairly nice emmental, gruyère, brie, mozzarella. It’s protein-packed, as one of the main ingredients is soaked cashews, which are then ground in a strong blender.
The vital ingredient, however, is a stinky water called rejuvelac, which makes the cheese taste tangy and works along with carrageenan and other ingredients to make a flavour and texture which resembles dairy cheese.
Rejuvelac is made by soaking a grain – I use quinoa – in water and washing it out daily, keeping it somewhere warm, until the grain sprouts. The ensuing water is then left for a few days until it goes cloudy, then it can be kept in the fridge for two weeks to make cheese.
Vegan home made cheese keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge and it freezes well too, so I always have some basic cheese on hand to make pies and quiches, macaroni cheese, lasagne, sauces, or even to serve on the cheese board. Even better, when I try out these cheeses on friends who think they are gastronomic experts, they like them and say they are a plausible replacement. Of course, I haven’t sourced a sumptuous stilton yet, but my brie is pretty rock and roll.