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A Nutty Approach to Low-Fat Cheese

I had never envisioned myself blending blanched almonds with olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon juice and water in the hope of producing something I could spread on a cracker.

But that's just what I found myself doing yesterday, following a recipe in the April issue of Vegetarian Times for almond feta cheese with herb oil. It's a recipe I'd ignored altogether when the magazine was first delivered. Why, I wondered then, would I want to make cheese out of almonds?

But as I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, my recent--and unaccountably belated--realization that the saturated fat in cheese is just as bad for you as the saturated fat in meat has me rethinking my relationship with my favorite of all foods. It's high time I cut back on my full-fat cheese consumption, finding ways to eat less (sprinkling some shavings or crumbles over a salad instead of gnawing at a hunk of parmesan) and, when possible, to substitute cheese that contains less fat.

I'm not alone in finding that many of the low- and reduced-fat varieties of my favorite natural cheeses lack taste and texture. (Even Gregory Miller, a spokesperson for the National Dairy Council, said as much when I interviewed him for the column.)

So I'm thinking I'll skimp on cheese quantities but stick with the quality. In the meantime, I'm keeping an eye out for lower-fat cheeses that actually taste good.

I have high hopes for this almond cheese.

Blend the nuts with with olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon juice and water. (By Sophie Huget)

I started crafting my cheese too late in the day to include a photo here of how it turned out. I'll post an update later in the day and give you a full report. But here are some pix that show the process, which starts with soaking blanched almonds in water for 24 hours. Then you drain and rinse the nuts, blend them with the ingredients listed above, spoon the mixture into cheesecloth, tie it off and let it sit in a colander over a bowl in the fridge for 12 hours. You can either eat the cheese the way it is or bake it and drizzle it with herb-infused oil.

After spooning the mixture into a cloth, mold it into a ball. (By Sophie Huget)

This almond feta has no cholesterol and just 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. It even has a couple of grams of fiber (from the almonds), something you won't find in most cheeses. (UPDATE: It's a bit caloric, at 170 calories per one-ounce serving--one-tenth of the recipe--but that includes the oil drizzled over the baked version.)

Check back later today for an updated cheese bulletin!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
 | Tags: how to make cheese from almonds, vegetarian low-fat cheese  
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Next: Nutty Cheese Update: Yummy!


Hello, sounds like a tasty recipe!
I'd like to point out though that the general population is very mis informed when it comes to saturated fats. You'd be very surprised to hear that eating sat fats is not nearly as bad for you as you may think. Actually, it's not bad for you AT ALL, in fact, our bodies need it. I urge you from not only a health stand point but a cheese-lover stand point to do some alternative research on saturated fats and how they DO NOT cause obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc etc. Check out this website Which is based on the scientific research of Dr. Mary Enig, Dr. Weston Price, Sally Fallon and others. As a columnist for one of the most prominent publications in the world, you should know the facts!

Posted by: fandrea | October 13, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I was so happy to see that you were trying out a plant-based cheese! There are many other vegan cheese recipes available online, and a whole book has been devoted to the subject ( the Uncheese book by Jo Stepaniak ) using almonds, cashews, tofu and other healthy ingredients to make everything from spreads, dips and mac and cheese to cheesecake. I've made many of the recipes and am astounded at how tasty, creamy and healthy they are....who knew ?
Animal cheese certainly is addictive ( it was the last animal-based ingredient to go for me ! ) Besides the saturated fat, dairy production is a nightmare for the environment, and of course, the thanks from everyone for exploring the options!
Can't wait to see how your recipe came out ! Cheers, Dale

Posted by: dale14 | October 13, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

What is the serving size for 170 calories?

Posted by: jmaczet | October 13, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure as an omnivore I'm going to get flamed off this board, but could we call it something other than cheese? Spread is a perfectly good word; "savory nut butter" works for me too. But cheese is milk that has been cooked with enzymes and bacterial cultures, then allowed to age or (in the case of feta) pickle.

Whatever this recipe produces, however yummy it may be, it is not cheese.

Posted by: northgs | October 13, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Hi, jmaczet:

I have a call in to Vegetarian Times to check the serving size. Thanks for asking!


Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | October 13, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

The nutty cheese sounds interesting, and thanks to Dale for the tip on the book - I went straight to Amazon and ordered a copy.

As long as the Harvard School of Public Health says to limit saturated fats, I intend to do so. My cholesterol numbers are excellent, without meds, and I am an "old lady".

Posted by: DESS1 | October 13, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Thank you fandrea. This column consistently disappoints me in taking a narrow view of low-fat, vegetarianism as being the only way to have a healthy diet. When I ate like that, I had quite a few health problems, and couldn't shed excess weight. I now incorporate whole dairy products and pastured meats into a plant based diet, and I've never felt better. Read Real Food by Nina Planck.

I agree with northgs, this isn't cheese. It might be tasty, but it's not cheese. Low-fat cheese isn't really cheese either. It's a processed cheese product. Please don't confuse the two.

Posted by: MzFitz | October 13, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

For those who eat animal products, Trader Joe's sells a tasty reduced-fat Havarti.

Posted by: dottie_b | October 13, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I get a giggle when vegetarian's keep trying to make their various mixtures taste like the "real thing". Just eat raw veggies if that is what you guys like, quit making things that look and taste like real meat or real food products from animals, for pete's sakes!! Tired of hearing them whine and moan about animal products. Eat grass and keep quiet about it then.

Posted by: kuchen | October 13, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm happy to see this recipe because lately I've started having trouble digesting dairy products - it looks like a tasty alternative. I'd like to make something like this for a holiday party - good for vegetarians and non-lactose-tolerant. Of course we'd need to make sure the non-almond-tolerant would be aware of the main ingredient!

Posted by: msienkiewicz | October 13, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a great idea, but I have to agree with northgs in that I couldn't consider this to be cheese.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | October 13, 2009 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Update: There are 170 calories per one-ounce serving, including the oil drizzled over the top of the baked version. That's one-tenth of the total recipe. Thanks for asking!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | October 14, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Our family has tried substiting hummus for cheese sometimes. Is this any better than cheese with regard to sauturated fats?
I could try making homemade hummus and reducing the amount of tahini if that would be better.

Posted by: csloger | October 17, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

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