In the past, Claudia Lucero's "One-Hour Cheese" was a much-used part of my kitchen; I'd used it to craft homemade goat cheese, ricotta, chevre, brie and others with Claudia's simple, step-by-step photo guidance.
After switching to a plant-based lifestyle, I was eager to see how everyday pantry staples like raw nuts, seeds, and even cooked vegetables could be used to create healthy, delicious cheese replacements. Whether you're vegan, keeping kosher, allergic to dairy, or simply want to embrace a healthier lifestyle, "One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese" will revolutionize your kitchen.
Regular cheesemaking at its most basic consists of a mere three ingredients: milk, salt, and a souring agent (vinegar or lemon juice). Casein, the stretchy protein found in dairy milk, is what gives dairy cheese its stringiness, creaminess, and melting properties. So recreating this in a non-dairy cheese understandably will require additional help for cheese to turn into strings (particularly with mozzarella that needs to be stretched) or soft-set cheeses like brie. Particularly with dairy-free cheeses, cheese forms are very important as they will give your cooling cheese shape (you can use decorative molds and ramekins too).
In "One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese," you'll find many classic cheese types like mozzarella, cheddar, brie, Swiss, paneer, feta, queso, ricotta, and soft spreads (you'll even find a vegan version of the beloved "bar cheese" I grew up eating at Schuler's in Marshall!). There's even a detailed guide to how to deepen the various flavor components of your non-dairy cheese by adjusting the umami, salt, sour/tangy notes, bitter and sweet, as well as a bonus chapter on fermentation that includes lacto-fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, and rejuvelac.
The magic behind Claudia's dairy-free cheeses relies on a few key ingredients: coconut oil (which will help cheese solidify), tapioca starch and agar agar (also called kanten), a seaweed from here in Japan with outstanding gelling properties that is used as a vegan gelatin replacement (it can be purchased in bar form or powdered; you will want the powder for these recipes). You'll also require some basic tools: a high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix or Blendtec) or food processor is a must, and cheesecloth for straining out fibers and solids.
And each recipe offers a wide range of potential ingredients and substitutes; some suggestions are nuts, cooked beans, even cooked cauliflower. You'll find suggestions how to customize your rinds using edible flowers and herbs and even cultured cheeses and yogurt recipes.
Like her previous book "One-Hour Cheese," not only will you find core recipes, but also bonus recipes and serving ideas to create your own memorable dairy-free cheese platter and fun extras like "baby bellas," silly singles (slices), holey emoji swiss cheese, mozz tots, bar cheese and cheese balls with pairings like mulled wine-poached pairs, pan-roasted fruit compote, caramelized onion and shallot jam, pistou, marinated olives, and crackers.
The step-by-step photos are particularly helpful in understanding the various stages of heating and coagulating as dairy-free cheeses (with various starches and stabilizers) do not behave the same as dairy products (Agar agar in particular can be a real headache to work with if you've never cooked with it before).
For the blog tour, I'm sharing Claudia's recipes for Fresh Ricotta and Roasted Chai Spiced Pears (Excerpted from One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese: Make Mozzarella, Cheddar, Feta, and Brie-Style Cheeses—Using Nuts, Seeds, and Vegetables by Claudia Lucero (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Matthew Benson.)
Variations: Lemon Ricotta, Vanilla Ricotta
Ricotta is often the unsung heroine of the US cheese world, but it’s truly a miracle of Italian resourcefulness. The dairy version is actually a by-product of cheesemaking. Once a hard cheese is made, the whey is reheated to draw out the whey protein so that it is not wasted. That is whey ricotta. This version has all the fluffy richness without the dairy. If you’re not sure you like ricotta, think of some of the delicious, iconic dishes that would be lost without it: lasagna, cannoli, white pizza. . . . The fact that ricotta is mild makes it a versatile starting point and blank canvas for traditional and nontraditional dishes. Need to add protein to a salad, roasted veggie dish, or even pancakes? Reach for ricotta!
2 cups cashews (soaked for 8 to 12 hours or boiled for 20 minutes and drained) or the Substitution of your choice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lactic acid or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup water
SUBSTITUTIONS for the Cashews (choose one):
2 cups raw macadamia nuts (soaked for 8 to 12 hours or boiled for 20 minutes, drained)
2 cups blanched almonds (soaked for 8 to 12 hours or boiled for 20 minutes, drained)
2 cups raw sunflower seeds (soaked for 8 to 12 hours or boiled for 20 minutes, drained)
Not as dense and rich, but still very tasty: 2 cups cooked, drained white beans (cannellini, navy, or Great Northern), no water at all, plus 1 tablespoon tapioca powder and 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (use for savory cooking like Basil Ricotta-Stuffed Mushrooms, page 157)
Strong blender or food processor
Measuring cups and spoons
Silicone scraper or spoon
Small bowl or measuring cup, for draining the ricotta (optional)
Colander or mesh sieve (optional)
Storage container with lid
1. Combine the cashews, salt, lactic acid, and 1/2 cup of the water in the blender.
2. Pulse a few times in the blender, stopping to scrape down the side of the container to make sure all of the cashews are incorporated. (Note: If you accidentally overblend, you will make cashew cream, also delicious! Simply drain it in cheesecloth and use it as you would sour cream.)
3. If necessary, add more of the remaining 1/2 cup water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the blender can run smoothly.
4. Stop blending when the mix looks like wet oatmeal. If you are happy with the texture, you do not need to drain it (it will also thicken a little in therefrigerator). It’s ready to eat; or to drain, you can proceed to step 5.
5. If you need to drain the ricotta, place the cheesecloth in the colander and the colander in the bowl, in order to catch the liquid. Pour the ricotta blend into the cloth-lined colander.
6. Lift and twist the cheesecloth into a bundle. Squeeze until you see liquid (cashew milk) drip out. Use the cashew milk or “whey” that drains out within 3 days in smoothies, biscuit recipes, and creamy soups.
7. Your drained Fresh Ricotta is ready to eat. Use it right away or store it in the refrigerator in a dry, covered container. Enjoy it within 1 week.
Lemon Ricotta In step 1, add to the blender: 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 teaspoons lemon zest
Vanilla Ricotta In step 1, add to the blender: 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more to taste
Roasted Chai-Spiced Pears
Confession: Pears are not my favorite fruit when served fresh, but when baked, mmm—they really transform! Not to mention, in this recipe, we’re mixing up a sweet ricotta cream similar to the ricotta and mascarpone cream in cannoli. Also, to claim some regional pride: Did you know that Oregon and Washington produce eighty-four percent of the United States’ pears? It’s the climate, volcanic soil, and mountain water! Pears also bake surprisingly fast compared with apples, so this dessert is beautiful, delicious, and easy-breezy.
2 tablespoons maple syrup or liquid honey
1/2 cup Fresh Ricotta (page 121)
1/4 cup real coconut cream or coconut milk (100 percent either way, no fillers; not coconut butter)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 large D’Anjou or Bartlett pears
2 tablespoons chopped roasted pistachios
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Mix 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup with the ricotta and coconut cream in a medium-size bowl.
Sprinkle in half of the nutmeg and half of the cardamom and mix well. Place the bowl of cream in the fridge for about 15 to 30 minutes to firm up.
3. Slice the pears in half lengthwise and use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds, which creates the perfect little vessel for our ricotta cream. Place the pears in a baking dish, cut sides up.
4. Mix the remaining nutmeg and cardamom with the remaining maple syrup and brush the spiced syrup over the top of the pears, reserving the extra. Bake the pears for 15 minutes or until they are tender, but not mushy.
5. You can serve the pears hot, but I prefer to let them cool completely so that the coconut cream doesn’t melt.
Dollop the ricotta cream into the hollowed-out pears, top with pistachios, and drizzle with the reserved spiced maple syrup. So pretty, so good!