Miyoko Schinner, Artisan Vegan Cheese


Miyoko Schinner, Artisan Vegan CheeseMiyoko Schinner has been teaching, cooking, and writing about vegan foods for more than thirty years. She lives in Northern California and is known for having written The New Now and Zen Epicure and Japanese Cooking: Contemporary and Traditional, and owning a very successful vegetarian restaurant in the bay area. Miyoko is host to a new vegan cooking show, Vegan Mash Up


Caryn Hartglass: We are back. Again, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s September 11. 2012. And thank you for joining me today. I want to remind you, my website is responsibleeatingandliving.com. Responsibleeatingandliving.com. The acronym is REAL because what I talk about is real food for real people, that means all of us. And we have lots of wonderful recipes and videos and all kinds of things. And all of my shows are archived up there at responsibleeatingandliving.com. I hope you visit and visit often. We like to see you there. And send me email: info@realmeals.org. I’d like to hear from you and I’m there for it. Questions, comments, anything you need, if I can help, I will.

All right, this is too exciting and I’m just going to roll right into it. We’re going to be talking about cheese! Say cheese! Vegan cheese! Everybody says when they want to give up dairy that they can’t give up cheese! How many times have we heard this? Too many times. Well, here we go, we’ve got the solution and it’s right here in my hands. I can’t wait to talk about it. Artisan vegan cheese, from everyday to gourmet. We are going to bring on Miyoko Schinner, who has been a vegetarian for more than four years and a vegan for more than half of that time. She’s the author of the New Now and Zen Epicure and Japanese Cooking: Contemporary and Traditional. Miyoko has been teaching, cooking, and writing about vegan foods for more than 30 years and lives in Northern California with her husband, children, dog, cat, and pet chickens.

Welcome to It’s All About Food again, Miyoko!

Miyoko Schinner: Hi, Caryn! It’s nice to be on the show again.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, thank you! Well, what I’m looking forward to is just talking to you alone because the last time, the show was a little crowded when we were talking about the vegan mash-up and it was too many great voices all at once.

You know how exciting this is that you’ve come up with this book. It’s like everybody’s screaming about it in your world.

Miyoko Schinner: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. It really is. And in my kitchen it continues to be exciting because I’m always working on new recipes for new cheeses.

Caryn Hartglass: As you mentioned in the introduction, this is based on lots of things and work that other people have done. We’re evolving in so many ways, as a species, and we’re evolving with cheese making, which is something that’s gone on for a long time. And why not evolve to using nuts and seeds in order to make cheese instead of animal excretions?

Miyoko Schinner: Absolutely, absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: I mean, why not? I think…I hope you realize it, now and in the future, but I really think this is groundbreaking. I think is going to be the foundation of a lot of future products. I hope we see them sooner than later. But I think this will really move people forward in making all kinds of wonderful different vegan cheeses.

Miyoko Schinner: I certainly hope so. That was my intent. I’ve been asked by people, “Why don’t you just make them and sell them?” But I really want to be able to give people the tools to do it themselves in their own kitchens. A lot of people can’t even get the commercially available cheeses as they are right now. But one thing I want to point out about the cheeses in my book that are different from what might be commercially available in vegan cheeses is that my cheeses are all cultured. You’re absolutely right; I took a tip from a lot of different people, lots of different processes that are already out there. The raw foodists completely inspired me with their culturing nut-based cheeses but then just took it a few steps further. Instead of just making a basic cashew cheese, like, “Why couldn’t I just turn this into Cheddar or Gruyere?” Or if I did this, if I tweaked it this way, or I added this or I cooked this, or I cultured it longer, or to get a dry, hard cheese, “What if I air-dried it, juts like a regular cheese?” because that’s what you do with the harder cheeses like Parmesan; they’re all air-dried for months and months and months.

Caryn Hartglass: I really want to think that more people are going to find their kitchens. I know we’ve gotten so far away from most people making their own food on a regular basis in their kitchen. And there’s a certain amount of movement back there, with food choices and people wanting to save on the cost of eating out, lots of different reasons, and just wanting to get healthier. So I’m always saying, “Find your kitchens, folks!” But other than making salads and soups, vegan cheese is another level away. And it doesn’t look like it’s really complicated but it’s a little time consuming; it does require some organization and a place to store things while you’re waiting for them to grow.

Miyoko Schinner: Yeah. In terms of time consuming they’re absolutely not instant cheeses. Although there is a chapter for practical, instant ones that you can make; if you just can’t wait, things you can make in a day or in a few minutes. They are available; there’s a chapter for that in my food. But there really isn’t a lot of hands-on time for any of the cheeses. It’s really just a matter of waiting and that waiting can be anywhere form 24 hours to several weeks. The beauty of the cheeses is that they gain their sharpness from the culturing process, just like regular cheeses do. A lot the commercial cheeses or a lot of the recipes that were available for vegan cheeses before involved getting that tang or that sharpness by adding something like lemon juice or vinegar. And then it really doesn’t taste sharp, it just tastes a little bit tangy. And what I really want to do was to let nature take its own course. So that’s what you have to do. Sometimes, depending on the cheese, you might have to wait a couple or days or you might have to wait a few of weeks, depending on the texture and the flavor and the degree of sharpness you want. And then again, a lot of these cheeses actually taste better after they’ve been in your refrigerator for several months. They continue to age in your refrigerator. It’s kind of fun, it’s exciting. It’s definitely more work than just going out and getting a package of something.

But I think you’re right. There is a movement towards getting back to the kitchen. I know that I make so much more myself now than I did. I have three kids and they’re all older now, but when they were little I started buying … I remember the day I was shocked. I shocked myself when I went into the store and I bought a jar of marinara. I couldn’t believe it because I’ve never done that in my life. I’ve always made everything from scratch: bread, vegan mayonnaise, everything.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, but you get tired.

Miyoko Schinner: I just got tired and worn down, just making food all the time to feed all these mouths. Now, they’re older and I’ve got more time. I’m sort of back in the kitchen now. My husband grows vegetables and so from the harvesting to making my own jams, breads, vegan mayonnaise, even vegan butter now, cheese, everything. Everything just … there’s less packaging. My daughter gets upset about it, like, “Why do we have so much garbage? Look at all these packaging!” And every time you go to the store, if you’re not buying just produce at the farmer’s market there’s a lot of packaging to deal with so …

Caryn Hartglass: I’d like to point out: most people do these things obviously for convenience and they’re overwhelmed and they have a lot of work to do but these fast foods, these convenient foods, if you really look at what it took to get them to your home, there’s nothing fast or convenient about them. There’s a big price …

Miyoko Schinner: it just didn’t happen in your home, that’s all. It happened somewhere else.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I mean, there were factories and people and processing and energy and lots of stuff goes into it.

Miyoko Schinner: Yes, absolutely. I find a calm in my kitchen when I’m doing all this stuff. It’s sort of like meditation for me. I certainly didn’t that way when my kids were little so I sympathize with the millions of women out there, men out there that trying to raise a family and put a decent meal on the table.

Caryn Hartglass: Small children, teenagers, they all take a lot of… a lot of, I don’t know, everything. Rejuvelac. I’m really curious about this. I just got this book so I haven’t made anything in it but I’ve tried … I once went to the Ann Wigmore Institute in Puerto Rico and I spoke on the environment and things like that. And I got to taste some of the food and things they were doing there and then I came back home and I thought, “I’m going to make Rejuvelac” and I couldn’t do it. I failed miserably. So I’m going to follow your instructions and make some with some brown rice, I think. But here is one of the questions I have. So what it says here is you put the grains in one-quart glass jar. Add water to cover; I can do that. Place a double-layered cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure with a rubber band; I can do that. I sprout stuff all the time; I do the same thing. Let the grains soak for eight to twelve hours. Great. Drain. And here’s the question: Add enough water to moisten the grain but not so much that they’re immersed in water. How much is that?

Miyoko Schinner: Well, it’s really not an exact science. Just until they look wet and …

Caryn Hartglass: So I rinse them and then drain them and then they look wet but there’s no real water in there?

Miyoko Schinner: No, no, there’s water in there. To be quite honest, I’ve been very sloppy in my Rejuvelac making …

Caryn Hartglass: Well, sloppy’s good, if there’s room for sloppiness.

Miyoko Schinner: It’s turned out anyway. So I’ve made it with a little like half an inch of water above it as well as just barely … just touching the surface of the grains. And the only difference that I’ve found is that different grains take longer or shorter. And there’s a commercially available Rejuvelac you can buy in many parts of the country and I think they use wheat berries. And I do use that sometimes. But I’ve done it with brown rice, done it with quinoa. Rye berries apparently work very well. I’ve never done it with rye berries but apparently that works really well. Just because I can’t seem to get rye berries for some reason, I don’t know why. But I’ve been kind of sloppy and it’s generally worse off.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. I don’t know why I had a miserable time. I only tried it once or twice and now I’m just … It’s not working and I gave up.

Miyoko Schinner: The reason I use Rejuvelac as the probiotic in the recipes, and it’s not … I actually also use non-dairy yoghurt as the thing that gets the culturing going as well too. So there’s some recipes that don’t use Rejuvelac at all if you go through the book. But the reason I use that is because a lot of the raw food cheeses, they’re not cheeses, will use a powdered probiotic. And what I found is that a lot of the powdered probiotics are actually not vegan because they’re grown in a dairy base. And two, they’re really expensive. It can be $25 for a tiny little bottle. And I want my book to be accessible to as many people as possible all over the world. In many parts of the world you can’t get a bottle of probiotic so I thought …

Caryn Hartglass: You can buy a probiotic and it can all be dead. That’s another problem.

Miyoko Schinner: Yes, that’s true. And I’ve also use probiotic bottled…I’ve used them before and sometime they just don’t work. So I found that if you find a recipe for Rejuvelac in there and you can buy whole grain, anywhere in the world. You can get some kind of whole grain. You can sprout that and turn that into Rejuvelac.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s genius. I just love the concept and I can’t wait to do it. This whole probiotic thing, it’s important to have them. We need probiotics in our gut. The powders are expensive and I like the idea of making it fresh. It’s got to be better.

Miyoko Schinner: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. I have to admit sometimes I need to make a cheese and I don’t have time to make the Rejuvelac. I go to Whole Foods and I buy a bottle. But I usually have some that’s homemade, sitting around but I run out when stuff like that happens.

Caryn Hartglass: And then the other thing about making yoghurt, I’ve made soy yoghurt before. The last few times I’ve tried it, it didn’t work out so well. And now I know I need to … because it’s always so thin. But the cashews you add to the soy milk, that helps.

Miyoko Schinner: Yeah, there’s a couple of ways to doing it. I actually have a video on YouTube. If you go there and Google my name, Miyoko Schinner Home Made Yoghurt, you can watch a video where I show you how to make it. I came up with that little trick of adding the raw cashews to the soymilk to enrich it because I’ve found that the commercial soymilks, I’m sorry, the commercial non-dairy yoghurts like the soy yoghurts, to be a little bland. The only reason they stick is they stick them with tapioca and some other stabilizers.

Caryn Hartglass: Yup, gum.

Miyoko Schinner: So if you want to make traditional, homemade yoghurt that sticks by itself, you can do it two ways: you can either boil down the soymilk for about fifteen minutes so that it’s reduced by about 1/3 and then you can make a really nice, rich, creamy soy yoghurt that way, or you can just throw in a handful of cashews into a quart of soymilk and puree that and then use that to make your yoghurt.

Caryn Hartglass: I can’t wait to get started.

Miyoko Schinner: Oh, good! I want you to get in your kitchen right now. Get off the phone! Get off the radio!

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m going to the store right after this and buy the things I need. And I promise, I’m going to do those things.

Okay, and then not only do you have cheeses in here. I found the basic routine is pretty similar here with your different recipes, some of them have really lovely flavors, and by culturing them, shorter or longer, you get different flavors. You use some oils to give some of your cheeses a more melty-er feeling. You got hard cheeses and just about anything you want to make. The cream cheeses look outstanding.

Miyoko Schinner: I know there’s a lot of cream cheeses on the market. But one thing I can say about the commercial vegan cheeses is that the first ingredient, most of them, is oil. And then there’s sometimes soy protein or soymilk, or … and then it’s just basically … it’s oil with maybe with a little bit of some sort of protein and then stabilizers. And to me, that doesn’t seem like a whole food. I really like to have food … I want to be eating mostly whole food. And I’m not as pure as your last guest but I do engage in what Chef AJ calls the evil trinity, salt, sugar, and oil, on occasion. I definitely choose what I eat sometimes with my taste buds. But for the most part, about 95% of the time, I do like to have a whole foods, plant-based diet, not eating processed vegan food.

Caryn Hartglass: We really need to go backwards as we’re going forward in time. Backwards in terms of using whole foods, getting all the chemicals out of our foods. I have this crazy chemical engineering background and yet I hate all the chemical-engineered foods that just shouldn’t be. I personally, in most of my foods, I avoid oil and salt. But then I like to have some toppings and things that… And that’s where some of the fat and salt are because it’s just like a garnish; it’s not that… the whole food is laden with oil and salt and that’s where this cheese is wonderful.

Miyoko Schinner: And I’m with you. I don’t cook with a lot of oil and salt either, generally speaking, but what I found with my cheeses is I try to make them as oil-free as possible but I couldn’t get them to melt unless there’s some oil in it. But the first ingredient isn’t oil; it’s something else, like the soy yoghurt. And there is enough oil in there to get them to melt but nutritionally, they still stack up much better than their dairy counterparts of the stuff you get at the store. But most of the other cheeses, 90% of the cheeses in the book do not use oil at all because I try to avoid it. They’re based on relatively healthful ingredients.

Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s wonderful. In this whole vegan movement, there are so many different voices promoting so many different things. Anyone that chooses to eat vegan, even if it’s Coke and potato chips and French fries, shouldn’t have to apologize for not wanting to eat animals. That’s a beautiful thing and everybody should be doing it. And for those of us who want to pursue a healthier lifestyle by eliminating all the artificial chemicals and ingredients to improve our health, that’s just another great step. But I love the fact that we can have these cheeses and they’re made from wonderful ingredients. This is just a brilliant thing. I can’t wait to get started.

And then you’ve got some desserts going on here on the back. Tiramisu, which looks fabulous.

Miyoko Schinner: That tiramisu recipe uses an egg white made out of flax. It’s a flax seed …

Caryn Hartglass: I saw that, flax seed meringue!

Miyoko Schinner: And it whips up just like egg whites. It’s just amazing. Now, you can’t bake with it but you can fold it into mousses and things to lighten it up. You can make a chocolate mousse and make this flax seed egg white thing. I mean, it’s just incredible when you whip it up; it looks just like egg whites. It’s got the same texture. Unfortunately, you can’t bake with it but it’s great to fold it into things to lighten it up.

Caryn Hartglass: And the amazing thing is, flax seeds come with so many good things for you.

Miyoko Schinner: Yes, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know why more people aren’t jumping on all of this faster. Okay, so you don’t have any immediate plans on making any of these cheeses yourself? For sale? For manufacturing?

Miyoko Schinner: Well, I’ve been in business before. But I am entertaining certain things. I’m considering going into the restaurant business again and that’s something I’m entertaining.

Caryn Hartglass: Here’s a thing for you. I’m sure you’ve thought about all of this. But when you first came on the scene, and I will never forget it. I told you this the last time we spoke. But I remember the restaurant Now and Zen. It was near Japantown. And then there was…. Right? It was around Japantown, San Francisco? Somewhere around there? And then I was so excited when I was flying on United to have the Now and Zen cookie. The thing is, you were one of our forepersons, I don’t want to say forefathers. But the timing, people weren’t ready yet. And now people are really, really … So it must have been painful for you in that time. You didn’t have the Internet; you didn’t have all these access to marketing. And now the time is really ripe, ripe for vegan cheese by Miyoko.

Miyoko Schinner: Yes. We definitely … When I started, I was always constantly explaining to people why I didn’t use dairy or eggs and why I didn’t use sugar because when I had Now and Zen we didn’t use any kind of sugar either. And I still don’t like to. I typically use natural sweeteners, I guess, that can be qualified as sugar by a lot of people, but maple syrup and that sort of thing. So the time is right now and I am ready! I’m ready to take off. I’m hoping that this cheese goes somewhere. I love to teach. That’s one of the things that is most important. That was one of the things about manufacturing I really didn’t like, was this sort of unilateral. I’m just putting food; I’m just distributing food. But there was no …

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, but people really want this. People really want vegan cheese. Now, I just was curious: when you’re growing things, bacteria, have you ever had any batches go bad or are there safety concerns we need to keep in mind?

Miyoko Schinner: Yes. And that’s something that’s very, very important that I should state is that, this is not an exact science. Different temperatures, how clean the equipment you’re using, the ambient temperature of the room, the humidity, all of that comes into play in how your cheeses perform. And so, if you’re working at a 90% humidity and a 110%, middle of summer, your cheeses are going to culture much faster and they can go bad much faster as well too. So there are things that you have to watch out for. It’s not as simple as providing a recipe for making a pasta sauce or something. It’s a little more complex.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. It’s an art.

Miyoko Schinner: It is an art. And you really have to watch these things. It would be wonderful if I went into manufacturing I have to figure out some sort of uniform temperature that they would all be cultured in and I’d have to have something like a cave or something like that, where it’ll be temperature-controlled and all of that so you could sort of predict the outcome of the product. But the fact is, I give a range on how long you should culture these cheeses because it depends. Even in my own kitchen, sometimes the sharp cheddar takes 48 hours and sometimes it takes 96 before it’s ready.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I know somebody’s going to do it. I know some people are going to start doing it. It’s just a question of when and we’re all evolving now and vegan cheese is there. And so thank you, thank you for getting the cheese ball rolling.

Thank you, Miyoko for joining me again on It’s All About Food. All the best to you with artisan vegan cheeses. I can’t wait to dig into it.

Miyoko Schinner: Thank you, Caryn, for having me. Bye!

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, bye! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve heard another episode of It’s All About Food. Join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com and have a very delicious week. Bye-bye!


Transcribed by Dianna O’Reilly, 1/31/2013

  2 comments for “Miyoko Schinner, Artisan Vegan Cheese

  1. I read somewhere that non dairy cheese made with Agar doesn’t melt but the cheese made using Kapa Carrageenan does. I find that just a little confusing becasuse I have used Agar when making my Cheddar styled cheese and it melted on grilled cheese sandwiches quite nicely. I was just wondering if that was a possible misprint or something. I just got the book Artisan Vegan Cheese book. I am excited to start working with it all. I also have a huge bag of Kapa Carrageenan already. I love the way my recipes using it turn out. Now I see that it is great for using with cheese too, and I’m excited to check that out. Is it possible that some types of Agar creates meltable cheese while others might not? I have to ask because it has worked great for me in the past.

    • Agar works, but some forms may be more difficult to use. Powder works bests, flakes are more difficult to dissolve. But agar does work. Carrageenan works too, it is a little different. I have used both. Enjoy!

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