The Must-Have Ingredient for Next-Level Vegan Cheese

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Miyoko Schinner, The Homemade Vegan Pantry)

It’s no secret that cashews — a stand-in for all manner of creamy spreads, dips, and desserts — are a vegan’s best friend. But as lovely as a dollop of cashew ricotta can taste slathered on a scone or tossed in with a pear-and-walnut salad, you just can’t get that sharp, aged real-cheese flavor (not to mention meltability) from the nut stuff. Or can you?

Rejuvelac Joins the Culture Club

Enter: rejuvelac, one simple ingredient that launches cashew and other nut cheeses to the next level.

Made with whole grains, filtered water, and some patience, rejuvelac is a slightly effervescent, 100 percent plant-based culturing agent that kickstarts the fermentation process in ground nuts. Sure, it smells a little funky — let it go too long, and you’re entering stinky-sock territory — but don’t be deterred. Making rejuvelac at home is basically foolproof, and it’s a surefire way to make truly cheese-like vegan cheeses.

You can also knock back a glass of rejuvelac entirely on its own. Raw foodists and early vegans have been singing the praises of the liquid for decades, ever since Ann Wigmore of the Hippocrates Institute first promoted its use as a probiotic supplement. Jerry Campagna, co-owner of the Rejuvenation Company, a California-based producer of probiotic beverages, says that the natural acidophilus in rejuvelac can do a world of good to repopulate beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Antibiotics, frequent exposure to sterilizers and antibacterial agents, and a diet low in natural enzymes can all throw your digestive flora out of whack, wiping out some of the billions of microbes that live in your digestive tract. “Sometimes what ends up happening is that the bad bacteria can come back a little faster than the good bacteria, and they start throwing your stomach out of kilter,” Campagna explains. “When you start feeling kind of crummy, a little acidophilus goes a long way to get you back in balance.”

The Birth of a Better Vegan Cheese

It was cheesemonger and cookbook author Miyoko Schinner who brought rejuvelac into the vegan culinary vernacular. In Artisan Vegan Cheese, the book that shot her to vegan-celebrity status, Schinner demonstrates that home culturing is a simple, relatively hands-off process with the power to deliver full, umami-rich flavor. Combining homemade rejuvelac with nuts, nondairy yogurts, and a few simple pantry ingredients, Schinner answers many a vegan prayer: chèvre that pairs nicely with wine, Gouda you can slice, mozzarella that melts (yes, melts!).

In her early cheese-making days, Schinner experimented with kombucha, pickle and sauerkraut juices, and store-bought probiotic capsules, but says that rejuvelac lent her cheeses the most complex flavor profile of any readily available culturing agent. “Rejuvelac is already fermented; it’s already been sitting on your counter for several days, capturing the natural yeasts and lactic acid from the air,” Schinner says. “So it’s already a complex flavor, and it’s got a little of that cheesy, funky aroma.”

And yes, a little funk is to be expected. “To some people, even if rejuvelac is perfectly fine, it’ll smell like smelly socks to them,” Schinner says. For the most part, rejuvelac should have a light, lemony aroma with slightly pungent notes; if it smells really foul or has things growing in it, Schinner warns, or if it’s completely flat and didn’t ferment properly, throw it out. Mold can grow even at low temperatures, and heat expedites the fermentation process, so keep an eye on your rejuvelac and remain aware of the temperature in your home.

But don’t worry too much about it. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me to say, ‘I’m afraid to make rejuvelac. I’m afraid to drink it — I might die,'” Schinner says. Particularly in American culture, she notes, fear of bacteria keeps home cooks from experimenting with one of the world’s most tried-and-true methods of preservation and flavoring. “Americans really just need to learn that fermentation actually has been — for hundreds of years — a way to preserve not only food, but also our own health.”

Read More: Why It’s So Hard to Create a Truly Cheese-Like Vegan Cheese