Why you should switch to vegan cheese
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Is cheese a sustainable food? The inconvenient truth is that it has a large carbon footprint per kilogram - often higher than chicken and pork, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
That's because up to 10 kg of milk is required to produce 1 kg of cheese, so it’s resource intensive.
Ruminant animals (those with multiple stomachs such as cattle, sheep, goats and even giraffes) also emit methane, which is 25 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, so milk and cheese production take a heavy toll on the planet.
With the climate crisis to the fore as we head towards COP26, it’s clear we need to eat much less meat and dairy if we have any hope of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More and more people are shifting to plant-based diets, either full-time or part time; it doesn't have to be dogmatic to make a difference.
One couple I know call themselves “Wegan” they are vegan during the week, then eat small amounts of cheese and fish at the weekend. Personally, I don’t eat meat but find cheese very hard to give up, so the burgeoning range of tasty vegan cheeses really helps.
Plant-based cheeses (often soy-based) have been around since the 1970s, and until recently most were pretty disgusting. But in the last few years London has seen an explosion of artisan vegan cheese-makers creating genuinely delicious products - and the opening of the UK’s first plant-based cheesemonger, La Fauxmagerie in Brick Lane shows the range now available.
Today’s vegan cheese is usually nut-based, with cashews seeming to be most common. The nuts are soaked, turned into a paste and then fermented to create that cheesy taste - after which ingredients such as coconut milk, shea butter, miso, lemon juice, herbs, truffle, chilli and even kimchee are added for a range of flavours and textures.
Kinda Co, Mouse’s Favourite and I am Nut Okay are some of London’s best-known producers. In fact, Kinda Co has been so successful that founder Ellie Brown just moved operations to Bristol, after outgrowing her home kitchen in Angel, then her production kitchen in Hackney.
One of my favourite North London producers is Honestly Tasty based in Wood Green. Their cheeses are honestly really tasty! The Blue (formerly named Veganzola) is a gorgonzola-style cheese matured over several weeks and made with almonds and real Penicillium Roqueforti. The Shamembert has a creamy centre infused with truffle oil to give it rich earthy tones, as well as an authentic rind that makes it perfect for baking. And Bree is their newest creation: a smooth but firm almond-based “brie” with a velvety rind and great flavour.
Another producer worth mentioning is Stoke Newington-based Nettle London who make a brilliant cashew and macadamia-nut cheese that is creamy and soft with a piquant zing, marinated in oils infused with black peppercorns and thyme.
At Fridge of Plenty, our urban farm shop in Crouch End, we are constantly taste-testing and we currently stock nine vegan cheeses that we rate as the best. We often have one available as a taster, so if you’re curious, come in and try some!
You may (like me) find it hard to say no to a really pongy soft cheese or a lovely mature cheddar - but if you can switch to vegan cheese, say, half the time, you will be treading much more lightly on the planet.
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Julia Kirby-Smith is director of Fridge of Plenty in Crouch End and a trustee of the charity Feedback, which campaigns to create a better food system.