Tasting Vegan “Cheese” with a Professional Cheese Taster
When the vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, a common refrain is often heard. “I can’t live without cheese.” Because of that, there have been many vegan cheese substitutes manufactured over the years, from the rubbery, unmelting soy cheeses to the melty but not very nutritious versions so popular these days.
I know I have always preferred to make my own nut cheeses, white sauces, and pestos to stand in for cheese. But it took a real visionary to take nut “cheese” to a whole new level.
Welcome, Miyoko Schinner’s new cultured and fermented nut cheeses. You can order them from her Miyoko’s Kitchen Website here. I’ve been hearing about Schinner’s cheese since she came out with the hit book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, and changed the way we think about non-dairy cheese forever. In fact, she calls it “cultured nut product,” and she is right to do so. It’s not a flawed attempt at real cheese, it is really its own thing.
I’ve made some of Schinner’s cheese, and will post a blog about it next week, so watch for that, it is absolutely worth the effort. But if you wanted to buy the cheese, well, you had to wait until she got her new Creamery up and going, then for your local store to carry it. Luckily for me, I scored a sample box, with all ten of the new cultured nut products.
For a fun experiment, I invited a good friend, who also happens to live and breathe cheese, over to taste with me. Elizabeth Nerud is a Certified Cheese Professional in the American Cheese Society, and manages a bustling cheese department in downtown Minneapolis. Liz is a trained, skilled taster, who can sense and name qualities in cheese that most people just call: “um, tasty.” She came along with an open mind and great enthusiasm for trying this new kind of ferment.
I was a little nervous. What if she hated it?
So we set about our tasting, and I took notes. It was a blast.
First up, Mount Vesuvius Black Ash
Liz tasted. “It’s got balanced salt, and tanginess. A little smokiness in the ash. It’s really beautiful, with a nice range of flavors, it’s lively and has a good presence.” The ash was a big part of it. “The ash is prominent, clean, kind of vegetal, like the smell of ozone before the rain.”
Number 2, Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf.
Liz found the fig leaf wrap delightful, and took a little taste of the leaves themselves before trying the creamy interior. “It’s creamy textured, vegetal, and tangy. Lightly toasty and nutty. I can see this on something toasty, like crispy bruschetta, and this would be a great picnic cheese.”
Number 3, Rustic Alpine
“I have a quibble with the name Alpine, this is not associated with what Alpine means. That said, it is perfectly nice. It has a nice range, depth and height, character throughout. The salt is in balance, it’s not fruity, it would be lovely with pears, luscious with grapes.”
Number 4, Farmhouse Cheddar
“It has a nice, slice-able texture, it’s rough and doesn’t cling to the knife.” She admired the shape. “It has a nice crosshatch rind, and a deep taupe or toffee color. It’s very similar to the Alpine, it is a little firmer. Terrific on the whole grain baguette.”
Number 5, Aged English Smoked Farmhouse
“It smells very smoky, to me it is a nostalgic smell, because I grew up in a Farmhouse with a kitchen stove that burned wood. It’s very pleasant, it has a little enjoyable metallic quality, like the others, the smoke flavor is very bold, it is absolutely delicious. I’m thinking it would make a terrific sandwich, a BLT or with avocado, or mayo for some creaminess. You need crispy lettuce on there, too.”
Number 6, Double Cream Chive
Liz checked the packages for the fat content. “I’m glad that the double creams have higher fat content. They should. This is super yum city, it’s fantastic. I know I am just taking little tastes, but it makes me want to spread it all on one cracker and stuff it in my mouth. It took me out of the clinical tasting mode and into pure pleasure.”
Number 7, Double Cream Sun-Dried Tomato Garlic
“It has chewy bits of tomato, nice texture, not bold on garlic but tasty. No really strong feeling from me, maybe if you are a big sun-dried tomato fan you would love this one.”
Number 8, French Style Winter Truffle
We fell into a discussion on truffles before proceeding. We hoped that it would be made with real truffles, not the overbearing artificial truffle oil. As she unwrapped the disk, she commented again on the packaging. “I really love the packaging, the little boxes are like opening a present, and they protect the delicate cheese. It’s a nice sticker, love the blue.”
The Truffle was really soft. “It’s so mousse-like, it looks like duck pate. The nose is different than the others, it’s forward with truffle at first, but kind of understated as it breathes. It’s really appealing, sexy, lush texture. It’s spreadable and pretty, would be good with a few sage leaves, for a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration.”
Number 9, Double Cream Garlic Herb
“It’s floral, with rosemary, maybe summer savory? It’s tangy and nice, it’s nice that it isn’t full of onion, it’s not as bright green as the chive, it has browner herbs. It’s my favorite spread so far.”
Number 10, Country Style Herbes de Provence
“Very densely herbed, gorgeous texture, I want to sit in a vineyard and slather it on bread. It’s got a great range of flavors. The roundness of the sea salt makes a difference, it’s very present but very pleasant. Love this.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, as did she. “It like it that it’s called cultured nut product, I don’t want to have cheese expectations. There are no milk flavors in it, but it is good. It’s an interesting challenge to talk about it using cheese-specific words, I feel like I am translating new meaning to established terms.”
Liz summed it up beautifully:
“It’s like a tribute to cheese. Cheese is the inspiration, but the execution is a tribute to the product itself. It’s like cheese created the shapes and flavors but it inspired a whole new thing. You want for nothing, you don’t feel like you are sacrificing a thing.”
And that my friends, is how good this stuff is. Call it what you will, it made a cheese taster very happy.
She even took the leftovers.