Earlier this summer, we riled some feathers by asking vegans which foods they missed the most–and which tempted them to cheat. But, when being honest, plenty of readers confessed that, even though they knew it was cruel and not-great for them, they missed the most beloved of dairy products: Cheese. Luckily, vegan chef, restauranteur, and food blogger Miyoko Schinner has finally given the people what they truly want in her new book, Artisan Vegan Cheese; From Everyday to Gourmet.
Yeah. That’s right. It’s a whole book of vegan cheese. Intrigued, I had to ask Schinner all about this brilliant idea, and how the cheese compared to the real deal.
How long have you been a vegan and why did you make that decision?
I transitioned to veganism in my mid-twenties, about 30 years ago, although truth be told, I would occasionally “cheat” with dairy once in awhile for a few years. Dairy was indeed hard to give up, and the very reason I became a vegan. I had been a vegetarian since the age of 12, but by college, I had discovered French cuisine, and was consuming really rich, dairy-laden foods.
I suddenly realized how unhealthy it must be, and so I decided to see if I could find plant-based alternatives to all the rich flavors I loved. That’s when I started experimenting with dairy alternatives, such as cream, tofu- cheese substitutes, etc. But really good vegan cheese was not in the picture at the time, and so occasionally, I would indulge in a slice of pizza or a piece of cake. Over the years, I kept finding ways to make credible dairy substitutes, and now with my cheese book,hope that it will make the transition smoother for others.
Vegan cheese is kind of the holy grail of an animal-free diet. When did you first realize it was something you could make?
My first attempt at vegan cheese was 30 years ago with tofu marinated in a miso-wine-mirin mixture. I published a recipe for Boursin using it in my first cookbook., and I still get emails from people saying that they’ve been making it for holidays for years.
The raw foodists inspired me, and I knew that more flavors could be coaxed out of plant based ingredients by culturing them. I literally made a decision to get into my “cheese lab” a few years ago and start experimenting seriously. I’m still doing that.
This book goes beyond just cheese, though–there’s yogurt in there, too! Is there anything you (or a reader at home) can’t make a vegan version of?
Well, I’m still working on a really good pate a choux (for cream puffs and eclairs). Haven’t succeeded yet, despite 30+ attempts.
You include a lot of interesting ingredients, like a lot of nuts. How do you come up with these recipes?
As I mentioned earlier, the raw foodists inspired me to use nuts. But that only got the ball rolling. Yogurt, another cultured food, has been used for centuries to make cheese. I thought, “Why not do the same with soy yogurt?” In other words, using cultured ingredients is the key.
Cheese traditionally has a lot of salt and fat–it’s kind of necessary to the flavor. Health-wise, how does vegan cheese stack up?
My book contains a nutritional analysis of each recipe, and I think it stacks up favorably. They tend to be lower in fat. I try to keep the salt content low, but readers can increase it if they want. Plus the type of fat is mostly unsaturated, and of course, they don’t have any cholesterol.
Do you think vegan cheese has the power to convert die-hard cheese lovers who may have initially been too afraid to make the switch?
I actually got the idea to plunge head-long into experimenting after serving a platter of my cheeses to a group of omnivores. They commented on the excellent selection of cheeses (not knowing that they were vegan!) and wanted to know which artisan dairy had produced them. So, I certainly hope this will help die-hard cheese fans to make the switch!
Is there anything else our readers should know?
Since writing the book, I have continued to experiment, and have made certain improvements. From time to time, I’ll be posting new ideas, suggestions, recipes on my blog, so check that out.
All images provided by Miyoko Schinner.