Artisan and experimental cheese makers in northern California on the U.S. west coast are turning the area into a kind of vegan cheese Mecca, in what experts believe could be a new era for these non-dairy products.
For a long time in the past, vegan cheese had been mostly a rubbery, tasteless pale chunk that resembled tofu, making it far from pleasurable on the palate for many consumers. Last decade saw a steady rise in the quality and taste of these products, thanks to the growing popularity of veganism worldwide.
However, it was during the last few years, and especially in northern California, that a new trend inspired by artisan cheese makers has caught on in the vegan industry. Three new companies, two founded a year ago, are spearheading the change through innovation while at the same time retrieving traditional cheese- making methods.
One of them is Kite Hill, a Hayward-based firm born in 2014, whose dairy-free cheeses follow the traditional techniques used by French cheese artisans. In a bid to provide an experience as close as possible to the original product, two local chefs, Tal Ronnen and Monte Casino, paired with a scientist and imported a French cheese maker to guide them and supervise production.
“The main question was ‘how do we make cheese without actually making cheese?'” Kite Hill’s spokeswoman Hannah Sentenac told Xinhua. “Ronnen and Casino wanted to give people a quality product that tastes like the real thing. They decided to use traditional techniques to make cheeses, which adds to the flavor, making it almost impossible to tell that it is a non-dairy product.”
Another company that has garnered a lot of buzz lately, Miyoko’ s Kitchen, claims to have mastered the art of cheese-making by using enzymes that substitute lactose found in milk. Miyoko Schinner, a long-standing vegan advocate in San Francisco, launched a series of dairy-free cheeses last year, following the recipes of the book she published in 2012, Artisan Vegan Cheese.
Though both companies use nut-based products, like most of the current vegan cheese firms assert, they differ in the kind of nuts they use instead of milk. Kite Hill uses almonds, while Miyoko’s Kitchen favors cashews.
Each chef or vegan cheese maker can use their own altered yeast enzymes and cultures, giving each batch of vegan cheese a distinct flavor, just like with real cheese. It’s no rocket science, artisans claim, since they simply use basic chemistry to turn yeast into the kind of cheese they desire.
“The basics, like with real cheese, are not hard to master, it’ s the style, the way it’s made and the ingredients used that makes the difference,” Sentenac said.
Following these artisans’ footsteps, a group of researchers in Oakland, east of San Francisco, decided that it was not enough. They have recently begun to explore the possibility of hacking the yeast cells to introduce cow’s DNA, making the cells produce milk protein. Once the hacked yeast cells are harvested, they can be mixed with fat and sugar to recreate milk, opening a world of possibilities for vegan cheese. Under the name Real Vegan Cheese, 30 scientists are volunteering to improve the current yeast concoctions, to help the world “harvest milk,” instead of milking cows.
California has been a hotbed for vegetarianism for decades, since the start of the hippie movement in the 1960s, and has also seen veganism gain a strong foothold.
It is not surprising that local vegan chefs, like Shane Stanbridge and Marie Chia with Fromagerie Esseme, decided to take a plunge into the vegan cheese world after reading Miyoko’s book. “Fromagerie Esseme started back in March 2014 as a cultured cashew cream cheese, when we realized we couldn’t find any satisfying non- dairy cream cheeses,” Stanbridge and Chia wrote on their website.
Vegans claim that eating anything that comes from animals, whether it be milk, honey or eggs, is bad for human’s health and harms animals, since they are usually grown in less than desirable conditions.
“One of the hardest things for vegans is having to give up cheese, which is delicious, let’s be honest,” Sentenac said, “but it’s made out of milk. Vegan cheese, if crafted in an artisanal way, can not only be delicious, but also suitable for lactose intolerant people. It also has no cholesterol or fat, which makes it a great and healthy alternative to traditional cheese.” Enditem

Source: Xinhua

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