Carmel Caridad wasn’t a vegan when she started making vegan cheese.
“A few years ago, I went to a gathering and I was the only non-vegan. I’m a chef and I love food, so I tried everything, and I was so shocked at how processed all the vegan food was,” she tells Broadsheet. A seed was planted. She thought surely it was possible to make a cheese alternative that was both delicious and made from natural, unprocessed ingredients. During lockdown, when everyone was making fresh pasta and sourdough, Caridad started making cheese with almond milk as the base.
“In lockdown it was often hard to get ingredients like mince, or tomatoes or potatoes, but there were plenty of vegan ingredients,” she says. “I had no problem sourcing miso, sweet potatoes, coconut oils, nutritional yeast, and all those ingredients are what I use to give vegan cheese a ‘cheesy’ flavour.”
After a year of product development and a lot of bad batches of “goos and cheese-like things”, Caridad had four products: ricotta, feta, bocconcini and parmesan. Today she also makes a rotation of cheeses such as basmati rice cheese and sweet potato cheese, as well as almond butter, seedy crackers, and spice-infused apricots or figs for cheese boards.
The fundamentals of making vegan cheese are the same as making milk-based cheese, and for the ricotta, it takes roughly the same amount of time: two days. “I make almond milk from whole almonds, heat it and curdle it with lime juice, then put it through cheese cloth. It’s a beautiful process that’s impossible to rush because every step, from making the almond milk to forming the curds, takes the amount of time it takes.”
The result is delicious, delicate and as versatile as milk-based ricotta. Caridad recommends mixing the ricotta with pistachio and orange zest to fill crepes, using it as a dip for apples, or stirring it through pasta.
Caridad, who also works as a private chef, is completely transparent about her cheese. Ingredients, flavour profiles, recipe suggestions, storage recommendations and use-by dates for each cheese are all on the website. However, the magic is in the process: how Caridad makes a crumbly, sharp parmesan, a springy bocconcini or a firm, earthy, sweet potato cheese.
“I’m always looking at other vegan cheeses, seeing what ingredients they’re using, the level of salt or coconut oil. I understand why people do what they do; when you’re mass-producing something it’s more stable and consistent to use a powder rather than a liquid for example, but for me, I like the unpredictability of real ingredients. There are so many variables. Sometimes the sweet potatoes have a different texture or the nuts are drier, so I know the batch of cheese will be a bit different.