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  • Cheese Blog #1 – I can’t believe it’s not allowed to be called butter

    Recently, a new EU directive has banned plant-based products describing themselves using words such as, ‘cheese’, ‘cream’, ‘milk’, ‘butter’ or ‘yogurt’, even with an additional descriptive or explanatory term accompanying it. There is a list of exceptions but tofu and soy are not included in them. So, beware people, you can’t legally call a soy-based product cheese, butter or milk. WHY? So as not to confuse customers who are used to these foods being made from animals. This is absurd. Is Goliath the Dairy Industry panicking in the face of David’s delicious plant-based alternatives?

    The debate has reached EU legislative levels in Germany between the brilliant Tofutown who promote vegetarian food and green technologies and the consumer protection group, VSW, who are worried that calling soya products ‘cheese’ is misleading to the public. I rather think VSW and the EU could worry less about definitions and more about the excellent environmental and health credentials of plant-based products.

    I don’t even know why cheese from cow’s milk has the monopoly on the spelling of cheese. Why do vegans have to resort to a funny spelling of ‘chease’ or ‘mylk’ or a qualifying adjective? And why do we say ‘normal’ milk or cheese when we mean cow’s milk? The word, ‘cheese’ actually comes from the Latin word caseus meaning ‘to ferment’ or ‘become sour’ so nothing to do with the curds and whey from a cow. The dictionary definition of milk, as you asked, is, ‘an opaque, white fluid rich in fat and protein secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of THEIR YOUNG’ So, logically, the stuff put in cartons and sold to humans isn’t, by definition, milk either.

    However, to fight the EU I think we need a consumer legislative group behind us. Who’s with me?

    My life in Cheese: a biography

    Many vegetarians we know or meet on the stall don’t drink cow’s milk or eat eggs but cheese is almost always the biggest stumbling block to going vegan and I can totally understand this.

    I used to eat cheese with everything. As a vegetarian student and throughout my 20s, my diet consisted almost entirely of wheat plus dairy for breakfast, lunch and dinner; cereal and milk, a cheese sandwich and pasta with cheese. I know you can obviously do better than this on a vegetarian diet, but they were safe defaults and when you add cheese to everything you always end up going down the same route. Take the cheese away and you’re immediately forced to up your game. As a vegan, I discovered whole new worlds of food and invented recipes with a greater variety of flavours that don’t rely on cheese; zesty lime, lemongrass, spicy chilli, smoky maple.

    So why stop eating cow’s cheese?

    • Incredibly, 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. The lactose in milk needs lactase to digest it which humans only produce up to the age of 2. Muscus is a by-product of your body’s efforts to digest milk so if you find yourself unaccountably snotty and/or spotty after a cheese feast pizza that will be why.
    • Concern about the treatment of dairy cows who live in a constant cycle of pregnancy and lactation without getting to do the actual mothering bit.
    • Cheese is high in saturated fat which is bad for blocking arteries.
    • There are lots of other, more effective, plant-based sources of calcium.
    • It’s so much easier to find vegan cheese in the high street now; Sainsbury launched a range of cheese, or Gary, including a feta-type one, caramelized onion cheddar and a crumbly cranberry Chesire-style cheese. Holland and Barratt sell vacuum-sealed selection such as Violife and Zizzi added a vegan mozzarella pizza to their menu, with Pizza Express following fast behind. These cheeses are often highly processed and, whilst they are good melted, they often have a distinctive after taste that you can’t ignore. Bottom line, they’re not good enough for a cheese board.
    • However, don’t despair! Some incredible artisan cheese companies have started to appear and they are taking the vegan cheese world by storm. The 3 listed below are founded by Ami, Rosie and Poppy respectively. Thank you for the cheese – you girls rock!

    Tyne Chease, Newcastle-Upon-Time based cheese makers, make 15 different types of organic, artisan, cultured and matured cheeses with an incredible range of flavours so I suggest you start with the mini cheese board selection and go from there. They travel up and down the country to vegan fairs but find their stall early as they’ll invariably sell out.

    Mmmmm

    Raw Food Rosie, located in the thriving vegan foothold of Hereford, also make the most delicious raw, tree-nut, natural and organic cheeses. They are softer than the Tyne Chease wheels but no less delicious. With varieties such as ‘Cashew Brie’ and a blue cheese to die for which might have changed my life.

    Cashew Brie

    Lettices are based in the Isle of Wight but tour the country with their plant-based cheeses, meats and dips. They’re very generous with the samples too so you can choose exactly what you’re looking for. Check them out.

    Lettices Blue Beauty

    These cheeses have that definite cheese ‘tang’ and no gacky after taste. They’re not cheap though, as everything is hand-made and matured but they are worth it and deserve an actual cheese board with crackers and grapes.

    The problem is, other than at festivals, there’s nowhere locally I can get hold of any of these cheeses so I need to be able to create some of this wonder at home. However, I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel of cheese or steal someone else’s recipe. These wonderful, artisan nut cheese makers have devoted nut bags of time to perfecting their craft and I fully support and want to promote them. I think the more accessible we make plant-based cheese, the quicker and more fully it will become integrated into our everyday culinary culture and then we’ll see more and more of them on the shelves. Also, all those vegetarians falling at the final hurdle will no longer have to make such a hard decision and give up cheese.

    In the next blog – having discovered that our tofu press lends itself well to the whole cheese-making process – I’ve made various attempts at home-made nut cheeses in Cheese Blog #2, Let Them Eat Cheese.

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