Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Smoked Pine Nut Farmer's Cheese--Science Experiments in the Kitchen

I made "cheese", well actually it isn't quite cheese, it is a "non-dairy cheese-like spread" or something similar to a Farmer's Cheese. (if you are not familiar with Farmer's Cheese it is a type of cottage cheese from which most of the liquid has been pressed. It usually has a tangy flavor and is firm enough to slice or crumble). Why am I making faux cheese? Its my usual thing--it just looked interesting and according to The Balanced Plate, by Rene'e Loux, a book on "The Essential Elements of Whole food and Good Health", it is teeming with healthy probiotics and microorganisms. (Am I tempting you yet!?) Actually, cheese lover that I am, I eat too much of it sometimes and there are a whole host of people I know that are lactose intolerant. (Seems to be pretty prominent here in some of the Asian cultures). I thought it would be nice to have a cheese-like spread that they could eat. This "cheese" is made from pine nuts and its smokiness comes primarily from Lapsang Souchong Tea. (A black tea that's leaves are smoke-dried over pinewood fires and smells and tastes somewhat like a campfire). I had a package of the tea and have been wanting to experiment with it a bit.

Here is what Rene'e Loux says about the Smoked Pine Nut Farmer's Cheese: "Seeds and nuts may be used to make a soft cheese sans dairy, but with the slightly tangy taste similar to cottage cheese. The fermenting action breaks down the protein and fats, which are teeming with healthy microorganisms for good digestion."

Smoked Pine Nut Farmer's Cheese
The Balanced Plate, Rene'e Loux
Yields about 3 cups
2 Lapsang Souchong tea bags
3 cups unfiltered water
3 cups pine nuts (see *note)
2 tsp white miso
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp Omega Nutrition coconut butter or olive oil
smoked salt or sea salt
Steep the tea bags in hot water for 5 minutes. Allow the tea to cool slightly, but not completely. It is helpful if the tea is a bit warm to get the fermenting action going. Place the pine nuts in a blender. Add the miso and tea. The liquid should cover the pine nuts by 1/2" or so. Blend until fairly smooth.
Line a colander or mesh strainer with two layers of cheesecloth, allowing 3" or more hanging over each side to cover the cheese while it is fermenting. Place the colander over a bowl to catch liquid (called whey) as the cheese ferments. Pour the blended mixture into the colander. Set in a warm spot (75-95 degrees F) for 8 to 10 hours or until it begins to smell a little ripe and the cheese is firm like a thick hummus. The top may become discolored from oxygen; just scrape it off. In warm climates and seasons, an out-of-the-way place on the counter may be just right. This may also be done in a dehydrator that has a temperature setting, or in an oven with a pilot light (to keep warm) with the door slightly ajar (to be sure it doesn't get too warm!). If the cheese is still quite moist, press down on the cheesecloth to extract excess liquid (save the whey to use in dressings or to drink as a fortified probiotic).
Mix in the lemon juice and coconut butter or olive oil by hand or blend until ultra smooth in the food processor or a high speed blender (like the Vita-Mix). Season to taste with smoked salt. The cheese will firm up in the fridge. Serve as a dip, on slices of ripe tomato with chopped basil or layered with seasonal, steamed or baked sliced vegetables in a strata or lasagna. Do not heat the cheese above 120 degrees F as the cultured microorganisms cannot survive.
*Note: "Pine nuts are choice for this recipe, but they cost a pretty penny, so buy in bulk! Check out http://www.pinenut.com for wild-harvested, organic pine nuts grown in America. Or try using raw cashews in place of half of the pine nuts to conserve your purse. Cover 1 1/2 cups raw cashews with 2 cups filtered water for 1 hour. Drain and rinse. Carry on as directed."

Making the cheese: Due to the expense of the pine nuts, I followed the advice in the book and used 1/2 raw cashews which I soaked beforehand. I also halved the recipe (When making potentially strange or scary items with expensive ingredients I like to lessen the potential damage). There are several steps to making the cheese and some downtime waiting for it to ferment but it is very easy. Checking on the fermenting, I was struck by just how beige it was--not looking so delicious wrapped in the cheesecloth, omitting a strange cloudy liquid. I don't think when they say "eat the rainbow" they mean beige! I set it on the counter and let it ferment for about 10 hours or so. The changes in appearance were subtle (I think in the back of my mind I thought it would start bubbling or something) but it did get thicker and was about the consistency of hummus. That's how I began thinking about it--like hummus instead of cheese as that seemed to make the color more palatable. When it was finished fermenting, I went to press down on the cheesecloth and found I should have been a little more delicate as it sort of oozed out into the liquid below. (That's OK, I wasn't going to save the liquid to drink or make salad dressing as Rene'e suggests even if it was full of lovely probiotics--it was just too brown and strange, thank you very much!) I had some smoked sea salt and I used that, added the lemon juice and olive oil and let it firm up overnight in the fridge. I didn't take any pictures of the process itself--it just wasn't that great to look at!

Results: Actually pretty good--different but good. It definitely has a distinct smokiness from the tea and smoked salt and a tang from the lemon. The finished texture is almost like cream cheese and it spreads easily on crackers. I put it on some "raw flax seed crackers" and it was pretty satisfying. Did it replace my need/desire for real cheese? No--I still loves me some cheese! Would I make it again? Sure--it was kind of fun, like a low effort science experiment you could eat. Definitely, if I was trying to serve someone with allergies to dairy as I think it is a good compromise and would make a good snack or pupu. I took some to work for a friend who is trying to cut down on dairy to try and he liked it a lot. All in all a successful experiment I think!


  1. I also like to halve recipes just in case they don't turn out to my liking...this sounds interesting but delicious.

  2. "When making potentially strange or scary items with expensive ingredients I like to lessen the potential damage" This is the funniest line I have read in a long time! I want to embroider it onto a pillow.
    I keep laughing and saying it out loud to the dogs.
    Your cheese does look light and creamy and not as odd as one would expect.
    I am glad it worked out for you, and intrigued by your smoked salt.

  3. This looks so delicious, I would have never guessed the ingredients. Thanks for reminding me of Farmer's Cheese, when I was little it was a special treat, my Polish grandma had the variety that was a little harder and able to slice, then she would fry it in butter and it got all golden brown and oozey, we would have it with brown bread if I remember correctly.

  4. Kat--it was interesting and pretty good. I used to just make the full on recipe all the time but I learned to cut back until I am sure I like it on most things!

    Natashya--Thanks! I hope the dogs appreciate my humor! ;-) The smoked salt I bought at a gourmet store on the mainland--it's big and flakey and very smoky so i learned to use it in small doses.

    Andrea--It was fun to make and turned out better than I thought it might. Your grandma's farmer;s cheese sounds wonderful--love the frying. This one never makes it to the slicing texture but the flavor is good!

  5. I am super impressed, Deb! I've been kind of scared to try fermenting stuff here (because it's so warm - for some reason I feel like it will go from good for you to kill you fast, or something) but this gives me a little courage! It sounds tasty too - especially with the tea. My favorite quote though: "I don't think when they said "eat the rainbow" that they meant beige!! ha ha ha ha

  6. Michelle--I am still alive and kicking so ferment away! ;-)


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