Unfortunately I have no pics as this is a rush job. Ok – I’ll give you a pic so you have something visual to anchor yourself with
Ok – so for a year or so now I have been gathering information from various sources about lacto fermentation. It is quite the rage now-a-days, and I won’t go into all the particulars here cause all you have to do it google it and you will be spoon fed much info from blogs and books and whatnot. My family has been lacto fermenting pickles for generations (old world eastern European style), so I had some background, which helped with the fear of death that I think a lot of people who are new to this experience. I mean there’s all the botulism fear and the USDA who scares the CRAP out of people with all their rules, but I digress – cause if you want to know about that you can google that too.
Between Wild Fermentation, a book where rampant experimentation is king; Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, a fabulous collection of old world French lacto preservation methods ; and Nourishing Traditions, probably the most referenced lacto preservation book out there (due in part to the salsa recipe, which I have not yet tried), I became fascinated with what people are fermenting and wondered – is there anything you can’t ferment? Plus, if you’ve ever watched Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, you are well aware of the fermented products he tries on a very regular basis. A lot are dug up out of the ground and most are said to have a cheesy quality. Yes, cheesy.
So between reading these books and checking out many-a-blog, I have seen comments or recipes that made reference to things such as fermented mashed sweet potato, potato cheese, fermented tahini, forgotten nut cheese at the back of the fridge, dehydrated lacto fermented veg made into chips, etc.
I also recently got into reading some raw food forums and there is quite a bit of talk about this Russell guy who has an ebook and does classes on fermented nut cheese and the Dr. Cow vegan nut cheese that apparently kicks ass – but is very expensive.
So as a result of all this random information, even though I am not vegan or raw, I became obsessed with making aged, fermented nut cheese. I mean, it’s super healthy and you can do cool stuff with it, and I just get obsessed with things like this – cause that’s the way I am. So I just did it. I made nut cheese – the way you do in any one of a million recipes that you can find online or in a vegan or raw food book, added an inoculant to get the fermentation going, aged it and ate it and I didn’t die. In fact, I almost had a heart attack cause it was so freaking good. Like super sharp spreadable cheese. No joke. And it makes sense. I am, in essence, making cheese. Or fermented fish paste, or fermented African yam, or tempe or black bean paste or whatever pasty, proteiny thing that is out there that people ferment, then eat. And a lot of it is described as cheesy.
So here is my recipe – with some further explanations here and there – so it’s gonna look more like another paragraph than a recipe. But if you’re interested in this for any reason I highly recommend that you read on and try it yourself!
Aged, Fermented Nut Cheese
Organic Raw Nuts (I usually use cashews but i’ve heard macadamias and pine nuts are very good)
inoculant (whey, or miso, or lacto veg brine, or rejuvelac)
It really is best to use organic and very important to use raw nuts. Use whatever amount of nuts you want. I usually go with about 2 cups. Soak the nuts in twice the amount of water for 12-24 hours. They become very soft and rubbery when soaked and will blend much easier. Drained soaked nuts and then rinse a few times until water runs clear. I usually soak them in a quart mason jar so after I drain them I put them back into the jar and then cover then over again with clean water. This all goes into a blender. I have not used a food processor for this but have read that you can. Into the blender you also add your inoculant and about a teaspoon of salt. So here is some more lacto info. Old world lacto fermentation is actually done without the addition of any inoculant. Everything in the world is covered with the lacto bacteria that does the fermentation (including your hands), so whatever veg you are using is usually not washed (ideally it came from your own garden) and so the bacteria is there and just takes off. Salt is added to keep other, undesirable microbes at bay until the lacto bacteria gets a foothold – which is usually a couple days. At that point the acid level of the product rises (it is a bi-product of the lacto bacteria), which prevents virtually all other undesirable microbes from growing – including botulinum. Some people use an inoculant – which is some product that already has lots of lacto bacteria in it so that lacto fermentation is assured. In something like this nut cheese I would say that it is pretty important. You really do want to make sure that everything is going in the right direction. I use milk kefir whey as my inoculant. It is the clear liquid that is left behind when you strain kefir – or yogurt. You can also use miso or you can make your own rejuvelac – but I’ve never done that so I can’t comment.
So….in your blender is…nuts, water, inoculant, salt. Blend for a minute or so – long enough for everything to liquify. I’ve read that some cottage cheese like chunks are ok – but I make mine smooth. Then I take a large mesh strainer and line it with a cotton dish towel. I put it over a bowl that it can rest in without touching the bottom and pour the liquid in. Immediately liquid will come out the bottom of the strainer into the bowl. Just let it sit like this (cover it over with part of the towel so that dust or whatever doesn’t get into it) in a warm spot for one or two days. I put mine either next to my food dehydrator (when it is turned on) or next to the wood stove. Like with yogurt making, I have heard of other places people use – on top of the fridge, on a radiator, in a gas stove with the pilot light on, in a crock pot set on warm. You need to find your own warm place. Somewhere in the 70-90 degree range. Some recipes I’ve seen have it sit out one day. Some say two. I do two days just cause I know that with other lacto veg items you let those sit out for as many as 4 or 5 days to make sure the fermentation is really going – then move it to a cooler spot. In this case the cooler spot is the fridge. At this point the strained nut cheese (which can be eaten at any point along the way) will be sort of fluffy and kind of dry on the surface. This is good. So scoop it out of the dish towel contraption and into a storage vessel. I use a pint mason jar. I press down as I am filling so that the large air pockets are forced out and then I use another old world technique. I pour a thin layer of olive oil on the top to cover it completely. The function of this is to keep an air tight seal on your lacto fermentation…station. Lacto fermentation is an anaerobic activity – it works in an environment without air. The oil provides a perfect air tight barrier. Yay!
So you can let it sit, in the fridge, for a few days and try it – or a week – or a month. One very good thing to have under your belt is having smelled lacto fermented veg at some point in your life. It is a distinctive smell and you will know that you have done it right because of the smell. For a long time I read comments from people on fermentation forums and yahoo groups that would say – you will know if the jar has gone bad and you shouldn’t eat it by the smell. You will know. And I always wondered what that knowing smell was. I like descriptions. Give me info. I want to know what the hell you are talking about. Then, lo and behold one day I opened a jar of green beans that had gone very very wrong. Boy oh boy did I know that there was no way in hell that there was anything good in that jar. Do you know what it smelled like? Shit. Literally it smelled like I was holding a jar of shit in my hand. Looked like green beans, smelled like shit. So now you know. You will know. Lacto fermentation smell on the other hand is (no joke) like a breeze of fresh air, and slightly acidic. I’m totally being serious. WhenEVER I open a jar of anything lacto fermented I immediately smell it and it gives me the feeling of fresh, breezy, tangy air. There’s a big difference between that and shit.
The thing that I have found is, the longer it sits the more like sharp cheese it is. Now – I have only been doing this for a month or so – so I have not experimented into the months of fermentation. But I would – if I could stop eating it. I don’t know how the first cheese makers stopped themselves from eating the cheeses long enough to get 12 year aged cheddar. I guess if you’ve got a lot of cows and a lot of milk…
Anywho…that’s my story. Feel free to blast me out of the water with your doubting looks and scowling disposition. I don’t really care. I’m just so psyched it works!