When I went vegan, I figured that cream cheese was just gonna be one of those things I lived without. I tried a couple of store brands, including Tofutti (umm, tastes like tofu to me), and Daiya (so chalky I can’t even get it down!), and Trader Joe’s Brand (I can’t remember why I hated that one, so I guess I blocked it from my memory). In short, commercial vegan cream cheese substitutes just do not do it for me. Nor did blending cashews with lemon juice. I mean, that tasted good, but it didn’t have that hip tang. I gave up for a while. Years, actually. I put hummus on my bagels and soyrizo in my jalapeno poppers. Then one day, I discovered that you can make easy cultured cashew cream cheese with nothing but nondairy yogurt and cashews. WTF? Was it seriously that easy this entire time?
Yes. Yes it was. It sure freaking was. I have wasted no time playing catch-up on all of the cream cheese I missed out on eating during those dark days. This stuff is so superior to anything else I’ve tried. It’s sublime. Not only is it delicious vegan cream cheese… it just IS cream cheese. It takes exactly the same as the cow-derived variety, with none of the cruelty or digestive sadness. One of my good friends eats dairy foods. I fed him this stuff and he was even more excited than I am. He asked me for the recipe and now slathers it on his bagels too. I may not have turned him vegan yet, but I’m pretty sure there’s one more happy cow out there thanks to this amazing vegan cultured cashew cream cheese.
I’m a little intimidated by fermented foods. I took a few stabs at making rejuvelac for the Artisan Vegan Cheese recipes, and it didn’t work so well for me. Beyond that, the process made me incredibly nervous. So take it from someone who is far from a whiz with culturing and fermenting things: this cashew cream cheese is extremely easy to make. And unlike rejuvelac, you will already know what the end product is supposed to smell and taste like! You know what yogurt is like, and you probably know what dairy cream cheese is like. You’ll be fine! If you’re nervous, start with a half batch (assuming your blender is small enough that it can blend that volume of ingredients smoothly).
Here is the super simple recipe! (Pictured on homemade bagels)
- 2 c. raw cashews, soaked overnight in filtered water (raw macadamia nuts also work - but will take a lot longer to blend)
- 2 tb. plain, unsweetened nondairy yogurt (see notes)
- ½ tsp. sea salt + more to taste
- filtered water, as needed to blend
- Prepare a clean and dry glass or other nonreactive container. I use a Pyrex container.
- Drain the liquid off of the soaked cashews. Add them to a blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth. If you aren't used a high-powered blender, it will take several minutes for the cashews to break down and release oils in order to become a smooth mixture. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed; you can also add filtered water a tablespoon at a time if you're having trouble blending.
- Add the yogurt and salt and pulse to combine.
- Transfer to the clean container and cover. Let sit out at room temperature for 24 hours. Use a clean utensil to taste the mixture, and add more sea salt to taste; let it culture for another 12-24 hours if you want a stronger tang.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- (Optional step) This recipe makes cultured cashew cream cheese with a texture more like "whipped" dairy cream cheese. For a firmer texture like block cream cheese, press out the liquid using cheesecloth.
The reason I don't add the yogurt right away with the cashews is that the heat produced by the blender or food processor has the potential to reduce the potency of the active cultures found in the yogurt.
I have experienced numerous times that the raw cashews sold at Trader Joe's are a lower quality than other vendors. They do work for this recipe, but I recommend against them if you have other options available.
Recipe source: Miyoko Schinner via Your Vegan Mom
The cultured cashew cream cheese won’t actually culture at all: The ambient temperature in your kitchen may be too cool. Try moving the mixture to a warmer location, or adding a bit more yogurt.
The cashews won’t get smooth: You really do need to soak them overnight first, and use RAW cashews. And have patience: it can seem like all they’re doing for 5 minutes is getting grainy, but keep blending and they will eventually start to release their oils and get smooth. It’s basically the same chemistry as making nut butter.
The mixture doesn’t taste like anything, not even yogurt. More salt! This definitely needs plenty of salt to bring out the flavor.