Photos by Holly Walker
Prep time: 20 minutes + 6 hours
Yield: 10 servings
When Roger Yang first became plant-based, the one thing that was hard to give up was — surprise! — pizza. For the owner of Away Kitchen + Café and fine-dining resto Awai, his progression into veganism came after much personal debate. First he stripped meat, then eggs and dairy and lastly pizza from his diet. “Pizza was probably the only thing that held me back!” Yang says. He started ordering pizza sans cheese, but it just wasn’t the same. So when Away’s chef Dualco De Labio began developing cheesy pizzas — a major menu feature at the restaurant — Yang was particularly excited.
Chef De Labio tinkered away on this herbal truffle queso fresco for weeks, working his magic in the kitchen until it reached perfection. Currently, the casual vegan eatery has six different plant-based cheeses in rotation, found incorporated into the cheese board, on top of pizzas and even whirled into a fondue.
Nailing the consistency is vital to this recipe. “Make sure the mix is very smooth — a homogeneous thick liquid,” Yang says. Dairy-filled queso fresco has a crumbly texture that was imperative to mimic in the plant-based version. Chef De Labio’s kitchen adventures brought him to realize that spiking the tofu with coconut oil was the key to achieving that texture at cooler temperatures.
For the home chef, De Labio recommends sprinkling the refrigerated queso fresco atop salads, pastas and, but of course, veg-topped pizzas. “If you keep at room temperature, it can be used as a spread,” Yang notes. Not only is this recipe super-tasty, but it’s healthy too, packed with calcium, magnesium and vitamin C for good measure.
Herbal Truffle Queso Fresco
2 pounds (600 grams) firm tofu
1 1/8 cup (250 grams) coconut oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons truffle oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
½ cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon dry tarragon
½ tablespoon dry oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons onion powder
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until very smooth and liquefied.
Spread the mix into a tray with reusable beeswax food wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to solidify.