Karen McAthy

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since Apr 14, 2017
I am a plant-based chef and cheesemaker, with a strong interest in growing and foraging food, local food systems and food security.

I am the founder of Blue Heron Creamery a plant-based cheese and products company in Vancouver, BC and the author of The Art of Plant-based Cheesemaking, which is an introduction to a basic methodological approach to making non-dairy cheeses.

I grew up on the west coast of BC, on a small island, and have a long abiding love for the ocean and forests of the pacific northwest.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
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Recent posts by Karen McAthy

Hi Polly,

The almond cheese I make is proprietary to my company Blue Heron Creamery, but I would be willing to share the basic method/core concept with you. You can reach me at chef@blueheronhceese.com

There are some specific things I am not fully able to share because some of the IP belongs to the company, but with respect to the second book, I am working to make more of that content available in a more open way.

In general, with aging a lactic acid cultured nut cheese, an almond or almond/cashew mix or almond/pine nut mix can be aged through repeated brining processes and pressing, and of course air drying/cave aging (bar fridge!) for several months to yield a fully hard cheese. Pressing and brining help to pull out excess moisture, and create a hard cheese, which can end up tasting very much like a parmesan.

I hope this is helpful, and please feel free to email me !

karen


3 years ago
Hi Burra,


I have been testing a number of different legumes, on their own and in combination with nuts/seeds/coconut milk. Thus far, my experiments with legume only cheeses are not meeting my desired outcomes, and thus I elected not to include any mention of them in this first book. If research and testing provides results that I end up happy with I will certainly include them in the second book. Thus far, as it stands, I will be publishing period method/recipe updates on my website, www.bluheroncheese.com

Protien, carbohydrate and fat content (which are present in dairy milk) are still important in plant-based cheese making, and finding ingredients that work well and develop nice flavor and texture is an ongoing research effort for a number of us active in the commercial plant-based cheese business.

for myself, personally, my goal is to focus on methodology and culturing practice and the role cultures themselves play in the development of flavor and texture. Ultimately I am interested in making stand alone cheeses made from plants (with no animal products) regardless if they mimic their dairy counterparts.

I do, however, very much understand that many people are longing for familiar or fondly remembered flavors and textures, and anticipate that the growing interest in this area will eventually yield dependable results.
Currently, it seems that there are at least two primary realms of vegan cheese making; cheese analogs that may use soy, wheat, nuts and a combination of other ingredients to make relatively fast cheeses, and cheeses that focus more on culturing and aging.


3 years ago
re: Vegan cheeses and allergies...


There are a number of commercial vegan cheeses that do not use soy in fact. Kite Hill uses almonds primarily, Miyoko's Creamery uses cashews. Cheezehound in Williamsburg uses cashews primarily, and Bloed Kuh in LA uses cashews as well

It is challenging to find a cultured vegan cheese that does not use nuts as nuts have protein, fat and carbohydrate and most want to ferment quite readily, a necessary step in cultured vegan cheese.

If you are into making your own, you can use coconut milk to create soft to medium firm vegan cheeses, if coconut is not an allergy, but technically coconut is a tree nut, so, the allergy concern may still exist.

Almonds, cashews though not technically nuts are common allergens.

cheese recipes in my book do not use soy or wheat but do rely on nuts and coconut milk. Coconut milk ferments really nicely, using a rejuvelac (lactic acid) or kefir (lactic acid) starters, and after draining the curd, age quite well. I've made chevre style cheeses, blue cheese, feta style and cultured butter with coconut milk.

Chickpeas when combined with either a nut or coconut milk can offer an interesting flavor to a vegan cheese, but avoid using chickpea only or it can risk coming out a bit too much like miso or a tempeh in flavor.

3 years ago
hi Polly,

I have enjoyed reading about everyone's experiments and approaches. In general my objective has never really been to try and replicate or copy dairy cheeses. I have been allergic to dairy since I was a child, so I don't think I have the same nostalgia for cheese as some, and so my focus has been primarily 2 fold: 1. investigate cheesemaking as a practice, understand the role of cultures and methods, 2. make plant based cheeses that are their own cheeses in their own right.

that said with my company Blue Heron Creamery, I have had some success in developing an almond based cheese that ages for 6 months -12 months that tastes very much (I've been told) between parmesan and very sharp cheddar. The key really is aging, and knowing which methods will encourage certain kinds of flavor development.

Congratulations on getting the rest of your equipment to use your bar fridge as a cave!!

Karen

3 years ago
Hi Peter,

I should caution that my book and my intention of introducing a nascent methodology for cultlured plant based cheesemaking isn't really to try to mimic familiar tastes. After years of being a chef in vegan and vegetarian restaurants and then with my own company, I have found I have been much more interested in the idea of making plant-based cheeses that are cheese in their own right. By that I suppose I mean, that my goal has been to discover how the cultures I use want to interact with the ingredients I choose, and then figure out how to develop their own best attributes. Sometimes this means familiar flavors and textures, sometimes very different. I have found that with respect to culturing plant-based cheeses, that aging is significant in developing some of those longed for flavors.  I hope you find something helpful in the book, and if you have any questions I am happy to answer!

karen
3 years ago
Hi Denise, Thank you for the welcome! Cheese, is the single biggest hurdle my students and guests (of restuarants I have cheffed at) have struggled with. I hope you find the book useful. It is only an introduction to a larger methodology that I am trying to pull together from the various practices of a number vegan cheesemakers  and my research.


Hi Kathy, Thank you the book should offer some core recipes that can work well for your own at home experimentation. I do offer some easy aging practices towards the end of the book to help folks age their cheeses.

Hi Polly, thank you. I'm glad you noticed that chapter. It is only introductory and is already a bit dated with respect to where my research has gone since, but I will be publishing a more in depth follow up book. The emphasis on culturing, and on differentiating cheeze (non-cultured) from cheese (cultured) is one of the distinctions I am trying to make with respect to identifying a prospective methodology for cultured vegan cheese. Additionally, as it is specifically the act of cultures in creating texture and flavor that I am interested in, I am mostly interesting in working with an increasing array of cultures in plant-based cheesemaking. I hope you find the book helpful in some way. I am always happy to answer questions.
3 years ago
Hi John,

So, before I address the 'reliable cheddar' issue ( a common common request, query from both my students and my customers), I thought I would preface my comment with a bit about what the objective and focus of the book is.
The book, is not designed to be a collection of recipes only, with the singular intent of a recipe. This book is a bit of an introduction to a longer more in depth follow up on which I am working, that is trying to establish some principles and concepts in plant-based cheesemaking, such as there is in 'traditional' or dairy cheesemaking.

The book focuses a bit on trying to identify where things are at now within plant-based cheesemaking, and what core or essential elements there may be, as vegan cheesemaking has very much evolved from the DIY level (much like the history of dairy cheesemaking).

As my particular interest is not in creating copies of dairy based cheeses (I've been allergic to dairy for a long time, and well before I became vegan), so, perhaps I am not quite a nostalgic about specific cheeses in the way that others might be. My goal is to try to make cheeses that are cheeses in their own right, just without animal products, and to focus on understanding culturing processes, microbes and what they do in creating flavor and texture.

The book does focus quite a bit on creating plant-based lactic acid forming cultures (rejuvelac, water kefir, using other plant-based starters), as a starting place for the home user to get familiar with culturing nut based mediums.

With respect to cheddar or other sharp cheeses, and only with respect to how I approach plant-based cheesemaking (others will have different approaches), I focus on the acidification of the curd, and then on the aging time, as well as pressing to eliminate moisture. Sharp flavor comes from duration of aging time and allowing the cultures to do their work of digesting proteins and carbohydrates, so the trick has been in finding a nut base that has a good mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat, so that the length of aging time does not produce rancid or other unpleasant results.

As I personally do not use agar or carageenan in my cheeses (I do write about them a bit in the book, and how they are used in some vegan cheesemaking), I have focused much more on flavor and overall texture than meltability .... plant-based bases not having the same protein structure as dairy, and do not coagulate the same way during the curd forming process.

Anway, I feel that I am rambling quite a bit, but, in short (hahahaa)... I am hoping the book will give folks some tips for experimenting themselves and though there is a cheddar process in the book, as with many of these things, it will come down to time and patience.

I am hoping in my second book, to provide deeper information ( as I am currently working to have more of the processes I use lab tested for reliability etc).

If you have been making plant-based cheeses at home, I would love to hear about your experiments.
3 years ago
Hi Deb,

I teach classes and often have students who share your particular health issue, I'm happy to answer any questions, if you have any
3 years ago
I look forward to chatting plant-based cheese with folks!
3 years ago