© Susan Shek
By Alicia Kennedy Posted January 01, 2016
Get in on the ground floor of the nut cheese revolution.
Once upon a time, the vegan section of the dairy aisle was more or less a joke, stocked with plastic packets of rubbery, oily, starch-filled "cheeze"—a dubious word that appropriately conveyed just how short it fell compared to its melty, gooey, dairy-born parent. But times have changed. Nut cheese has reached new heights, in part because the people making it are increasingly using the same processes as dairy farmers: taking nuts from almonds to cashews to macadamias, blending them with cultures, and aging them to make spreadable cream cheeses, aged hard cheeses and everything in between.
“Until recently, only raw foodists made vegan cheeses—and they did it in very simple ways,” saysMiyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheeseand owner of the Miyoko’s Kitchen line. “But recently the amount of vegan cheese on the market has skyrocketed.”
"In the next few years, vegan cheese is going to go mainstream,” says Jay Astafa, the chef at 3 Brothers Vegan Café in Long Island. He's banking on that possibility; soon, his cashew-based mozzarella, based on a recipe he started developing in 2011, will be available to buy retail. This is not your vegan sister-in-law's plasticky cheeze, Astafa promises. It melts, it browns and it bubbles up on the top of your pizza—just as a cow’s-milk cheese would.
Not that the point of nut cheese is simply to mimic its dairy counterpart. According to Michael Schwarz, who owns the Hudson Valley-based company vegan cheese purveyor Treeline, the idea is to create a product that's delicious in its own right. “If I go to someone who’s not vegan and say, ‘This is brie,’ they’ll taste it and say, ‘It’s not,’" he says. "So I say, ‘This is our cracked pepper nut cheese.’”
For the skeptical brie-lovers out there, rest assured: No one is asking you to give up dairy cheese altogther (not yet, anyway); accepting nut cheese into your life doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. “There are so many kinds of cheeses in the dairy world," says Michaela Grob, owner of Riverdel, Brooklyn’s new nut cheese shop. "Nut cheese is just another variety."
Make 2016 the year you give nut milk cheese a chance!