Science Friday Spotlights Plant-Based Cheese Companies, Including Miyoko's Kitchen and Kite Hill
Plant-based cheese is coming to a platter near you, reports Science Friday.

Miyoko’s Kitchen is part of a new generation of plant-based cheese makers that are making groundbreaking foods a reality. Founded by Miyoko Schinner, a longtime vegan and restaurateur who literally wrote the book on vegan cheesemaking, Miyoko’s Kitchen has received rave reviews since it started selling its products in 2014.

"It’s really the hardest thing for people to give up,” says Schinner. “I hear this all the time, wherever I go across the country.”

Schinner and many other artisanal plant-based cheese producers are choosing tree nuts—cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and almonds—as their base ingredient largely because they’re relatively high in fat and protein.

The process of creating tree nut cheeses is quite interesting and complex.

First, it involves soaking the raw nuts, then blending them with a little water into a creamy mixture. Then this mixture is inoculated with a bacteria culture that ferments sugars into acids. This process lowers the pH, giving this plant-based cheese optimal sharpness and tanginess. 

But it is the bacteria culture that really creates a cheese's flavor profile. For example, a popular strain for plant-based cheese makers is Lactobacillus acidophilus because it creates a fairly mild, not-too-sour cheese. 

Fermentation for nut cheeses takes about 36 hours, and the aging process takes weeks longer. Coconut oil is sometimes added to give a fattier texture to cheeses made with nuts low in fat, and starch, such as potato or tapioca, is added to help the nut base coagulate.

Most vegan cheese makers, including Miyoko's Kitchen, are fairly small outfits. Perhaps the biggest operation is Kite Hill, which has approximately 50 employees.

“We’re not trying to be a substitute” for dairy cheese, says Jean Prevot, Kite Hill’s vice president for manufacturing and operations, who worked for many years in dairy and cheese factories and for several more years at a goat cheese creamery. “We’re trying to make a product that is as good as or better than dairy products,” he added.

It's clearly working. 

Serious Eats’ managing culinary director, J. Kenji López-Alt, was very impressed with several of the products from Kite Hill and Miyoko's Kitchen, writing that they were “not just good-for-vegan food," but were "good enough that anyone should be happy eating them.”

With companies like Miyoko's Kitchen and Kite Hill, and all the small artisanal plant-based cheese shops opening around the world, the plant-based cheese movement is on a sure path to greatness. Find out how The Good Food Institute is helping promote these good food products.

Sign up to stay current on the work of GFI.