Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.
As a countdown to the Best of the Twin Cities 2014, coming April 16, the Hot Dish is serving up 100 of our favorite local dishes.
Smoked cashew milk cheese featured in an heirloom tomato caprese salad
Anyone who has tried to make the leap from vegetarian to vegan or who had to go dairy-free for one reason or another, has probably uttered the following lament: "I just have the hardest time giving up cheese."
It's true. Even if a bloody steak totally turns your stomach and you'd never consider downing a big glass of milk with your dinner, cheese of any kind -- ricotta salata, brie, queso fresco, castigliano -- is the one thing you just can't quit. Now, vegans, even raw vegans, and the lactose averse don't have to, thanks to the committed and resourceful women behind local brand Punk Rawk Labs
Punk Rawk's cheeses are made from raw nut milk, either cashew, macadamia, or a blend of the two, mixed with a probiotic, and left to ferment for a period of time, which gives their vegan cheese an extra hit of dairy cheese-like depth and funkiness. The texture is creamy and fluffy, very much like chèvre, and in the case of their smoked variety, the flavor is salty and, as you might expect, smoky and a bit nutty.
It's ideal spread on a cracker or slice of baguette, incredibly complex and dessert-like when tucked into some sweet dried fruit like a date or an apricot and drizzled with maple syrup, and lovely with some fresh tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil (as pictured above) in a caprese salad. It's impressively diverse and really very delicious, no matter how the phrase "nut milk cheese" makes it sound.