Student Life

Embracing cheesy alternatives

Concordia Greenhouse workshops teach students how to make plant-based cheeses

From creamy cashew cheese to silky nacho dip and crumbly parmesan, students can learn how to make plant-based cheeses on Jan. 19, a workshop hosted by Sheena Swirlz, the services and programming coordinator for the Concordia Greenhouse.

“Cashews, lemon juice, salt, water and a bit of herbs, and that’s all you need to make animal-free, gluten-free parmesan,” Swirlz said at her most recent workshop, held at the greenhouse.

Since becoming vegan 16 years ago, Swirlz has created a website and hosted workshops to share easy recipes for vegan alternatives to many people’s favourite foods. At her workshops, she goes through the steps it takes to make all sorts of flavourful cheeses using simple ingredients. Among the recipes she has shared are a blue cheese dip, parmesan, nacho cheese sauce, cashew cheese and tofu ricotta.

Making each type of non-dairy cheese involves only four or five easy steps. Ingredients such as almond milk, cashews, nutritional yeast and spices can be used to create dips and cheeses that are spreadable, meltable or grateable—all without dairy. Rich in vitamins, cashews add a creamy and nutty flavour, Swirlz explained, while nutritional yeast helps give the cheese its “cheesy” taste and yellowish colour.

According to Swirlz, the only downside to homemade, plant-based cheese is the same as dairy cheese—it requires patience to properly ferment and develop the cheese’s smooth texture.

“Some vegan cheeses are sold for around $13 at the store, but if you make it yourself, it will cost you about $3,” she said. Swirlz explained that some people are skeptical about veganism because they think it’s costly, while others are unwilling to sacrifice the foods they love, although she insisted they don’t have to.

“You can find all of these ingredients right next door at Le Frigo Vert, the anti-capitalist food store,” Swirlz said. With veganism growing in popularity, she reassured those at the workshop that healthy eating has never been as simple and cheap as it is today.

“I chose to be vegan for animal ethics, and I honestly find it very simple because it just becomes a way of living, a lifestyle,” said Stephanie Plamondon, an organizer of the Montreal Vegan Festival, who attended the workshop on Jan. 12. “Once you have the vegan staples in your pantry, you’re good to go.”

“I’m probably the last person in this room to turn vegan, but this cheese is pretty damn good,” said Carl Bérubé, a workshop attendee, as he sunk a second nacho chip into the nutritional yeast cheese dip. Swirlz’s recipes seemed to please the crowd, many of whom said they heard from others that the cheese tasted delicious and were encouraged to attend the workshop, despite their varying palettes and diets.

Regardless of whether attendees were lactose intolerant, animal lovers or cheese fanatics, the takeaway was the same—homemade vegan cheese is not only delicious, but good for you, your pocket and the environment.

“I want to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle through diet,” Swirlz said. “For the environment and for the treatment of animals in Canada.”

For full recipes and information about upcoming workshops, check out Swirlz’s Facebook page or visit her website.

Photo by Sandra Hercegova

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