An alternative to Somerset’s finest fromage, untainted by animal products, promised to open the way for vegetarians to go the whole hog into vegan eating. Jonathan Chenoweth tells how he took up the cheesy challenge.
On first eating vegan cheese from my local health food shop I almost threw up. It was about a decade ago when I had then recently adopted a vegan diet and realised I could still eat delicious food. So I was excited to finally find some vegan cheese in my local health food shop – a cheddar cheese-alternative. But on biting into a thick, freshly cut slab with the expectation of the sweet, nutty, complex flavour of a mature cheddar, I instead encountered a taste best described as rancid. I vowed never to touch the stuff again unless someone came up with an edible vegan cheese. A few years later, I decided to have a go at doing just that.
I had discovered how much I loved experimenting in the kitchen to create new vegan foods (and how unnecessary animals were to creating delicious food). For example, vegan ice cream – which is indistinguishable from a high-quality dairy ice cream – was no problem. And I quickly discovered that many cakes tasted better without egg. Cheese though was a challenge. While I could easily create something that looked a bit like cheese, achieving the right taste and texture was difficult.
I also came to realise that the lack of good vegan cheese was a significant problem. Talking with vegetarian friends, so many would say: “I would go vegan but I just can’t give up cheese”. It was a barrier to many people adopting a plant-based diet. Cheese was the problem for many would-be vegans which I became determined to solve.