Every now and then someone somewhere conducts some research into, not just the rise of veganism, but also the reasons for not quite making it to a fully plant-based diet. And the biggest reason for the latter, appears to be cheese! Around 50% of Britons, for example, cite cheese as their main obstacle in progressing to a vegan diet. Veganuary 2021 had a record number of around 500,000 sign-ups which surpassed the previous year's 400,000 and which in turn was an increase on the take-up in 2019, there clearly is then a growing trend towards a diet without animal products. So how has cheese gained such a hold over us?
There's no denying that fat, for better and worse is one of the pleasure trap elements of our food; having a desire for it served us well in times of scarcity and of course, we need it in modest amounts now, but cheese has around 70% of its calories from saturated fat which can be a major contributor to modern lifestyle diseases, and eating very modest amounts of it is challenging as the two of us know from our cheese-eating days. So is it just the sensation of fat that we crave, or is there something else? Dr Neal Barnard refers to cheese cravings and points to the casein in cheese as the reason why. He talks about the casein fragments known as casomorphins which are morphine-like compounds, or opiate molecules. This is how he describes the process in his book The Cheese Trap: "These opiates attach to the same brain receptors that heroin and morphine attach to. They are not strong enough to get you arrested, but they are just strong enough to keep you coming back for more, even while your eyes are expanding before your very eyes."
So is there any hope that we can disentangle ourselves from this high fat (and high salt!) food craving? Maybe there is. The two of us are well aware of bio-individuality, and that what works for one doesn't always work for another, but despite our own differing physiology, we've both let go of cheese with relative ease. Tastes can change as can gut flora which increasingly looks like a major driver of our food choices. But there's still something else, although we can only really raise this as a suggestion as it's based on our own experience. Does the pleasure of eating cheese come entirely from the dairy component or does fermentation play a role too? We think it might, and that is why we occasionally enjoy nut cheeses made with a fermenting agent such as simple probiotics, miso, or kombucha. So if you're among those who are really interested in detaching yourself from dairy, but feel somewhat stuck on cheese, we've got a pretty straightforward recipe for you here. Really good bought versions are few and far between at present, but we do know of a couple and would be happy to pass on the names of them to you if you want to get in touch.
250g cashews (pre-soaked for between 4 hours – overnight)
Approx a quarter cup of water
1 probiotic capsule / tsp miso
2 tsps powdered nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp garlic powder & / onion powder
2 tsps lemon juice
Salt (optional especially if using miso as the fermentation agent
Drain and rinse the nuts, and place in the blender with the water and the contents of the probiotic capsule (discard the shell). Blend until smooth and transfer to a nut milk bag and strain. Tie the top of the bag and place in something with holes in the bottom eg a steamer, with a pan or dish underneath. Place a weight, eg a water-filled jar, on top of the bag of nut mixture and cover with a tea towel. Leave in a warm place for 12 – 24 hours.
Next day, empty the contents into a bowl and add the seasoning ingredients. Mix well and transfer to a jar and keep in the fridge ready for use. As this is a fermented food, it will keep longer than for a non-fermented version which should be eaten within about 4 days.
This makes a soft cheese which, of course can be spread on crackers or bread. But for something a little less conventional, it works a treat spread on lettuce leaves, or cabbage, or radicchio, or pak choi leaves and then topped with any crunchy and soft vegetables of your choice. Enjoy!