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In our latest Chow-To episode, senior video producer Guillermo Riveros visits the queen of vegan cheese, Miyoko Schinner. Watch and learn how to make vegan cheese at home; take a virtual tour of Miyoko’s factory and her animal sanctuary (both located in Petaluma, California); and learn a bit about the dire state of the dairy industry and the promise of the plant-based economy.

As plant-based eating grows ever more popular, we’re seeing more and more animal-free products on shelves, from the Impossible Burger to multiple brands of vegan cheese. But when Miyoko Schinner first went vegan, that was definitely not the case.

Miyoko Schinner, queen of vegan cheese

Miyoko Schinner’s animal sanctuary is home to pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and geese (Chowhound)

Miyoko’s Creamery: Where Love of Cheese & Love of Animals Converge

A vegetarian since the age of 12 (a choice she made based on her abiding love for animals), Schinner decided to go fully vegan after learning more about the dairy industry; while she adored cheese, she couldn’t support its manufacture. Even small farms that truly care about animal welfare can’t ultimately have the cows’ best interests at heart (because there’s always the bottom line, after all).

Luckily, Schinner also loves a challenge, so she set about learning how to make vegan cheese that tasted delicious, and she’s been perfecting the art since the 1980s. In 2012, she wrote a book on vegan cheese, with recipes that use various non-dairy ingredients including nuts and plant-based milks.

Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner, $9.95 on Amazon

Check it out for even more intel and tips.
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When she started her company, Miyoko’s Creamery, she was making small 40-pound batches of cheese, but demand quickly outstripped supply—they went online on a Friday and by Monday had $50K worth of orders. Since then, she and her team have had to solve the problem of scaling up production, but remember: she loves a challenge.

And people love her vegan cheese.

It comes in an array of sophisticated flavors like Double Cream Chive, Rustic Alpine, Black Ash, and Smoked Farmhouse; there’s also vegan cream cheese and cheddar-y vegan cheese spread.

Miyoko's vegan cheese

Miyoko’s vegan cheese (courtesy of Miyoko’s)

So what’s the secret to its appeal?

It’s All About the Fermentation

There are several ways to make vegan cheese, but it achieves its true glory through the magic of fermentation. The cashew cheese recipe Schinner shared with us includes both sauerkraut brine and miso paste (both packed with probiotics and good bacteria), and the mixture sits for at least 24 hours in a warm place. In that time, the pH drops and the smooth blend gets more acidic, cheesier, and thicker. Nutritional yeast also contributes to the cheesy umami flavor.

Anthony’s Premium Nutritional Yeast Flakes, 1 lb for $12.99 on Amazon

An essential ingredient for vegan cheese dishes.
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Muso From Japan Light Sweet Miso, $4.80 on Amazon

If you have trouble finishing big tubs of miso, this smaller size is handy.
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Miyoko’s Vegan Cheese Recipe

This very basic vegan cheese is a delicious starting point for your own creations, but it also tastes great as-is. You can experiment with how long you let it age (up to several weeks in the fridge after the initial fermentation), as well as try different mix-ins (like mushrooms, chives, or garlic), or even coat it in various spices or herbs while it cures. If you have a set-up for cold smoking, you might try that too.

Miyoko's Basic Vegan Cheese

Ingredients
  • 2 cups cashews
  • enough water to cover cashews
  • 1/2 cup sauerkraut juice
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • pinch sea salt
Instructions
  1. Soak cashews for at least 2 hours in water, then drain thoroughly.
  2. Combine drained nuts, sauerkraut juice, nutritional yeast, miso, and sea salt in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Transfer to a covered container and let ferment somewhere warm for at least 24 hours.

Pyrex Container Set, $33.59 on Amazon

Any lidded container, like a Pyrex bowl, will work as a fermenting vessel for your vegan cheese.
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Vegan Cheese On the Rise

There’s no denying that plant-based eating is becoming more mainstream—for reasons ranging from health and environmental concerns to personal politics.

While the dairy industry is in decline, with plummeting milk prices, gargantuan stockpiles of unsold cheese, and small farm closures all too common, Schinner does not see the plant-based economy as the enemy. Rather, she believes it’s not only more compassionate to animals, but to farmers too. Existing production facilities can, in theory, be converted to produce plant-based products that consumers want, and land currently devoted to raising cows can be used to grow ingredients for those products.

She supports all up-and-coming plant-based ventures, too, rather than seeing them as competition—because, as she says, the only way to effect real change is to work together, and that includes growing the category of earth and animal-friendly dairy alternatives.

Learn more about making vegan cheese in various styles, and check out some of our favorite vegan cookbooks too.

Want more great recipes, stories, and insights from chefs? Subscribe to Chow-To so you never miss an episode!

Header image courtesy of Miyoko's

Jen is an associate content producer at Chowhound. Raised on scrapple and blue crabs, she hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation. Read more of her work.
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