I’ve served this smoky vegan cheese ball at friendsgiving for two years in a row, and I figured it was time to serve up the recipe here on the blog! I’m quite partial to the funky flavor of this cashew cheeze, and while it requires a bit of resting time, it comes together in a snap!
What is a vegan cheese ball…?
It sounds like a total misnomer, but vegans have concocted a way to create a dairy-free cheese ball that can sit beautifully on an appetizer platter at your holiday gathering, and be tangy, savory, and delicious with crackers or veggies.
(I may have also used some of my leftovers for grilled cheese dipped in my tomato basil gnocchi soup…)
As with many vegan cheese recipes, raw (unroasted) cashews form the base of this recipe. Cashews are naturally creamy while their fiber content helps to give the your vegan cheeze ball some body.
Refined coconut oil is also a necessary ingredient to get a melt-in-your-mouth texture while allowing the cheese ball to stay firm at room temperature. Saturated fats are almost always the key to finding that balance between melty and firm. Be sure not to use virgin coconut oil or your whole thing will taste like coconut 🙁
The cashews and coconut oil form the vegan cheese ball base, and then you’ll need a few more ingredients to create a cheezy flavor. The neat thing is that this recipe is naturally gluten-free and can easily be made soy-free as well! Plus, it doesn’t require any cooking, just some soaking and blending.
Also, you don’t need any vegan cream cheese! If there was a brand that I loved, I’d use it here, but the only one that will satisfy me is my homemade cultured vegan cream cheese, and I didn’t feel like making that just to use in this.
The secret to making an extra sharp, cheddar style vegan cheese ball
So um… it’s booze.
I’m quite fond of whiskey, in particular super peaty Scotch, and I may or may not have already-drunkenly splurged (see – I have vices!) on a bottle of Lagavulin 11 recently. I might have known in the back of my mind that Ron Swanson (the character on Parks & Recreation) loves Lagavulin but I certainly did not realize until after the fact that Lagavulin 11 was actually bottled in partnership with Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron.
So in conclusion, apparently this vegan cheese ball is accidentally sponsored by Parks & Rec, via the fact that a splash of said Scotch is included in my recipe. The heavily peated, almost smoky flavor of whiskey lends a very unexpected cheese-y tone to things. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I think it’s because some of the same qualities that come from aging the whiskey are present in aged cheeses.
I would never expect everyone reading this to buy a fancy bottle of Scotch in order to make this recipe. Of course not! Any sort of whiskey, brandy, or dry sherry make very handsome additions to your vegan cheese ball.
Not a consumer of alcohol? Don’t worry – simply omit that ingredient. There are several other players in this recipe that create a cheezey flavor: miso, sundried tomato, and a pinch of nutritional yeast.
Vegan cheese ball variations
- Roll the cheeze ball in different toppings such as pecans, walnuts, olives (ooh I’m dangerous), crushed pretzels, herbs, or anything else you can dream up!
- Mix in chopped and drained fresh tomatoes and fresh basil for a bruschetta cheese ball!
- Add crumbled rice paper bacon or tempeh bacon for a smoky upgrade
- To make this nut-free, swap the cashews for sunflower seeds – but at your own risk. They have a definite flavor, but if you season it well, and use a flavorful coating, it will still make for a great result.
- Drizzle with Bee-Free Honee (I think this is a discontinued product, unfortunately) as pictured, agave nectar, or drizzly thing of your choosing! Hickory syrup is a nice touch too!
Sharp "Cheddar" Vegan Cheese Ball
- 1 and 1/2 cups raw cashews soaked
- 1/2 cup melted refined coconut oil
- 2 tbsp sundried tomato soaked
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp yellow or white miso
- 1 tbsp whiskey (or use brandy, dry sherry, or omit for an alcohol-free version)
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp prepared mustard
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika (regular or smoked - I use hot Hungarian smoked paprika)
- 1/8 tsp ground turmeric (optional, for color)
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Toppings (or use your favorite)
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- Before starting, you need to soak your cashews and sundried tomatoes. Add them to a bowl and fill with cold water, and let sit overnight. If you're shorter on time, you can pour boiling/very hot water over them, cover the bowl, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, or ideally an hour if you can.
- Drain the cashews and sundried tomatoes and rinse well. Be sure your coconut oil is melted. Add the cashews, tomatoes, and oil to a blender along with the rest of the vegan cheese ball ingredients. Blend until completely smooth, which can take a few minutes depending on the blender you're using.
- Taste the mixture for seasoning, and add more salt, vinegar or lemon juice as needed. Transfer the mixture to a container and place in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the coconut oil solidify and the mixture to set.
- Once the cashew cheese mixture is set, you can remove it from the fridge, use your hands to gently shape it into a ball, and then roll it in the toppings of your choosing. Your completed vegan cheese ball should be kept refrigerated until 5-10 minutes before serving.
By the way, I definitely did not invent this myself. Thank Somer McCowan from Vedged Out for her enduring contributions to the art of cheeze. This is an adaptation of her recipe. Vegan cheeze balls as we know them today would probably not exist without Somer!