Giving up on dairy
I have been a pescetarian (that is to say, a fish-eating vegetarian) for over 15 years now. I don’t eat mammals or birds, but I do eat fish, eggs and dairy.
More recently, the incongruity of consuming dairy whilst refusing to eat an actual cow slowly began to dawn on me. After all, dairy farming is, by virtue of what it takes to make a cow produce milk, a rather more distressing process than meat production, and you can read a bit more about that here.
And so we started trying to cut out dairy. As someone who doesn’t actually like cow milk (one of my earliest memories is suddenly taking very violently against it as a very young child, sitting at my grandmother’s dining table in Chelmsford), giving up many uses of dairy wasn’t much of a challenge. I have never taken milk in tea, only in the occasional coffee, and nor do I eat typical, milk-heavy British breakfast products like cereal or porridge. I discovered very quickly that I very much prefer the taste of soy or almond milk in coffee, that vegan coconut oil spreads are a perfectly viable alternative to butter on good bread, and that Alpro soy yoghurts taste almost indistinguishable (or even better) than their dairy equivalents.
Dairy alternatives are not perfect however. Soy and nuts tend to come with significant air miles behind them, and also tend to come packaged in that well known nemesis of recycling, the Tetra Pak. Thinking that we could at least try to resolve the packaging problem, we started researching into making our own milk at home.
Our thoughts first turned to oat milk, for the simple reasons that we have a local deli which sells oats in paper bags, and oats tend to be grown closer to home (ours in fact travel just a few miles to get to us). No air miles and no plastic, what could be better! We found instructions online and set to work, soaking the oats in a bowl overnight.
Things seemed to be going well as we blended, strained and bottled the milk the following day. However, the sieve didn’t quite strain as well as was needed, and the milk not only had a gritty texture but also kept thickening in the fridge, presumably as the oatmeal residue continued to swell. Our first effort was therefore a bit of a disaster, but we have since bought a cheesecloth nut milk bag and so will be trying again soon.
For our second attempt, we switched to cashews, as they don’t need to be strained. We again put them in a bowl to soak in water overnight, and then had a long conversation about which of our blenders would be best for dealing with the nut blending process (i.e. which would not break). We needn’t have worried: the next morning the nuts had become so soft you could actually squish them between your fingers. We ended up just using our smoothie maker (we have a Breville Blend Active) to make the milk, which is super easy because if you are feeling lazy you can soak, blend and store in the same container. Doing this reduces the time you need to be actively involved in the process to less than about 3 minutes.
There are of course downsides to cashews, mainly the fact that they have travelled a long way to be here and that you almost always have to buy them in a plastic bag. However, you don’t need large quantities (about 1 cup or 100g of cashews makes almost 1 litre of milk), and there is something lovely about having a bottle of fresh milk you have made yourself in the fridge. I will never be a milk drinker but Mark thinks it’s delicious on his cereal, and with a texture and appearance almost identical to cow milk, it’s great for cooking or in a smoothie. We will persevere with oat, but this was a nice discovery in the meantime.
You will need:
- 1 cup/100g cashews (raw/unroasted)
- 4 cups/1 litre water
Soak the cashews in the water for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Put it all in a blender. Blend. It’s as easy as that. You could add a little cinnamon, honey or vanilla extract if you fancy.
You can of course make different quantities by following the same proportions if your blender/appetite is smaller/larger.
A final top tip:
I would recommend investing in a funnel for easy moving between containers!