In Chowhound's latest Chow-To episode, senior video producer Guillermo Riveros visits the queen of vegan cheese, Miyoko Schinner. Watch and learn how to make vegan cheese at home; take a virtual tour of Miyoko's factory and her animal sanctuary (both located in Petaluma, California); and learn a bit about the dire state of the dairy industry and the promise of the plant-based economy.
As plant-based eating grows ever more popular, we're seeing more and more animal-free products on shelves, from the Impossible Burger to multiple brands of vegan cheese. But when Miyoko Schinner first went vegan, that was definitely not the case.
Miyoko's Creamery: where love of cheese & love of animals converge
A vegetarian since the age of 12 (a choice she made based on her abiding love for animals), Schinner decided to go fully vegan after learning more about the dairy industry; while she adored cheese, she couldn't support its manufacture. Even small farms that truly care about animal welfare can't ultimately have the cows' best interests at heart (because there's always the bottom line, after all).
Luckily, Schinner also loves a challenge, so she set about learning how to make vegan cheese that tasted delicious, and she's been perfecting the art since the 1980s. In 2012, she wrote a book on artisan vegan cheese, with recipes that use various non-dairy ingredients including nuts and plant-based milks.
When she started her company, Miyoko's Creamery, she was making small 40-pound batches of cheese but demand quickly outstripped supply -- they went online on a Friday and by Monday had $50k worth of orders. Since then, she and her team have had to solve the problem of scaling up production, but remember: She loves a challenge.
And people love her vegan cheese.
So what's the secret to its appeal?
It's all about the fermentation
There are several ways to make vegan cheese, but it achieves its true glory through the magic of fermentation. The cashew cheese recipe Schinner shared with us includes both sauerkraut brine and miso paste (both packed with probiotics and good bacteria), and the mixture sits for at least 24 hours in a warm place. In that time, the pH drops and the smooth blend gets more acidic, cheesier and thicker. Nutritional yeast also contributes to the cheesy umami flavor.
Miyoko's vegan cheese recipe
This very basic vegan cheese is a delicious starting point for your own creations, but it also tastes great as-is. You can experiment with how long you let it age (up to several weeks in the fridge after the initial fermentation), as well as try different mix-ins (like mushrooms, chives or garlic), or even coat it in various spices or herbs while it cures. If you have a set-up for cold smoking, you might try that too.
- 2 cups cashews
- enough water to cover cashews
- 1/2 cup sauerkraut juice
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon miso
- pinch sea salt
- Soak cashews for at least 2 hours in water, then drain thoroughly.
- Combine drained nuts, sauerkraut juice, nutritional yeast, miso and sea salt in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Transfer to a covered container and let ferment somewhere warm for at least 24 hours.
Vegan cheese on the rise
There's no denying that plant-based eating is becoming more mainstream -- for reasons ranging from health and environmental concerns to personal politics.
While the dairy industry is in decline, with plummeting milk prices, gargantuan stockpiles of unsold cheese and small farm closures all too common, Schinner does not see the plant-based economy as the enemy. Rather, she believes it's not only more compassionate to animals, but to farmers too. Existing production facilities can, in theory, be converted to produce plant-based products that consumers want, and land currently devoted to raising cows can be used to grow ingredients for those products.
She supports all up-and-coming plant-based ventures, too, rather than seeing them as competition -- because, as she says, the only way to effect real change is to work together, and that includes growing the category of earth and animal-friendly dairy alternatives.
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