Miyoko Schinner, Vegan Cheese!
A venerated chef, author, TV host, animal rights advocate and vegan cuisine leader, Miyoko Schinner is ideally poised to set the gold standard for cultured plant-based cheeses in the United States and Europe. A highly visible proponent of delicious, decadent, and healthful plant-based foods for the past thirty years, her most recent cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese, is a best-seller on Amazon and has been hailed by reviewers and bloggers as “groundbreaking,” “revolutionary,” and “the holy grail of the culinary world.” Miyoko’s Kitchen is the response to the rapidly growing demand for truly artisan dairy-free cheese products. More at Artisan Vegan Life and Miyoko’s Kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food, here on September 9th 2014, a nice cool September day and I’m going to bring on my next guest Miyoko Schinner. How are you today, Miyoko?
Miyoko Schinner: Hi Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi.
Miyoko Schinner: How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: Thankyou so much, you much you must be so busy.
Miyoko Schinner: I am and the last time I saw you was when you were delivering that wonderful performance down in San Hose, that duo, that Broadway…
Caryn Hartglass: The Swingin’ Gourmets.
Miyoko Schinner: The Swingin’ Gourmets – that was so much fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for coming to that. You know while we’re going down memory lane here, I wanted to mention a couple of things. I already mentioned this in the first part of the show, but two years ago I had you on the program. We talked about your wonderful new book at the time Artisan Vegan Cheese and that was two years ago. It was September 11th 2012 and I also had…
Miyoko Schinner: Oh my god.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, just like two years ago exactly. The time has gone crazy.
Miyoko Schinner: I can remember when it was exactly, okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I looked at it because I wanted to refresh my mind and see what we spoke about and call you on a few things, if I needed to, but Talia Fuhrman, was also on that show and like the only time in five and a half years, I’ve been doing this program, I have the same two people on the same day, twice.
Miyoko Schinner: I remember that and so when I saw the post this morning, I thought oh she’s posting something from two years ago. I thought maybe my eyes were…
Caryn Hartglass: No.
Miyoko Schinner: Were deceiving me, but I guess not.
Caryn Hartglass: No, just, I don’t remember. I didn’t remember it until now and I don’t know what it all means, but I don’t believe in coincidences and I’m just enjoying it.
Miyoko Schinner: There must be some deep meaning to that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Miyoko Schinner: Anyway.
Caryn Hartglass: Deep meaning. The other thing I wanted to mention, we’ve talked before about your history in the vegan world and you’ve really been a trend setter. Starting things before anyone else was doing them and I remember now in Zan The Restaurant in San Francisco, and my brother was just telling me that he has a crayon picture that he drew while sitting in your restaurant. I guess you had…
Miyoko Schinner: Oh my god.
Caryn Hartglass: Paper and crayons, as table cloths.
Miyoko Schinner: We did, we had… we always had a table. There was a table cloth and there was a piece of butcher paper that covered the table, over the table cloth. And we always had crayons, and people could draw pictures, while they were waiting or whatever, and sometimes you would see the most amazing artwork on the butcher paper, and we would just sometimes, we would hang it up and do like a little butcher paper art show at the restaurant.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, my brother hung his up in his bedroom and it’s there till this day.
Miyoko Schinner: That is funny, that is funny.
Caryn Hartglass: But, you know, I think all of that, it’s important time together. Art and food and beauty.
Miyoko Schinner: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, okay.
Miyoko Schinner: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: The last time we talked, you had come out with this wonderful book and you were showing all of us how to make our own cheese. We talked a little bit about making manufacturing the cheese and here you are two years later and it’s happening.
Miyoko Schinner: It really is happening, and two years ago and I did speak to you, I think it, people were saying, well why did you write a book? Instead of just starting another company and because I’d had companies in the past and run my own businesses in the past. I just wasn’t like, thrilled at the idea of starting a new company. Just wasn’t quite as appealing. So, I didn’t really picture it myself, doing what I’m doing right now. But enough people kept asking me, why don’t you just make cheese? I mean, I love your book, but I don’t want to go through the hassle. I’m just never going to make anything in it. I’d rather just buy it.
Caryn Hartglass: You really had to do it.
Miyoko Schinner: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: No regrets right, everybody so excited about this.
Miyoko Schinner: No regrets, absolutely. Yeah, we’re really excited about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I tell people, I’ve been saying this for years. People are probably tired on this show of me saying it. But, I’m always saying it. Find your kitchen, get into your kitchen, make your food. I know that you make most things by scratch and I think for the most part our basic foods we should. Cheese is a little complicated.
Miyoko Schinner: That’s right it is, it does take and that’s why most people don’t make… I mean there are cheese making classes in the dairy world all over, but most people don’t embark down on that path, because it’s just very detailed. There’s a lot, it’s a real commitment and as I mentioned before, patience is the most important ingredient in any kind of process that involves culturing or fermentation or aging. So, it takes a while.
Caryn Hartglass: So, culturing and fermentation. This is the part that gives these cheeses, all cheeses their unique flavour and tang and body. But, we’re dealing with microscopic little living things and they can either go your way or another way, and we’re talking about this the first time, finding, controlling the temperature and controlling everything you need to make a consistent and safe product.
Miyoko Schinner: That’s right and so that’s something we had to explore really, really deeply and thoroughly before we started this company. We do want to grow, we don’t want to just be, you know, selling at farmers markets. We want to be a global company, eventually. And so, we wanted to be, we wanted to make sure that we were producing something that was safe and so we actually hired a couple of cheese consultants who’ve been absolutely fabulous. Cheese consultants in the dairy industry, who helped us really, set those parameters and figure out how to, safe practices and we spent a lot of time developing what’s called a hazard plan, which stands for hazard analysis and critical control point. So we would have all of our controls in place, so, not just temperature, but measuring the PH and the water activity and all of this stuff. So we can be sure that we are producing a safe product and that it’s a consistent product, so we’re not just winging it each time. Which is wonderful to be very artisanal, kind of winging it in your own kitchen and as long as your surfaces are clean and all of that, you can generally have a safe product. But every single time your cheese is going to come out a little bit different, because of all, the lack of these controls, so, when you mass produce, you need to have that in place.
Caryn Hartglass: I have some property in Costa Rica, it’s just a jungle, I haven’t done anything with it. But when I go and visit, I visit friends and see a variety of different things and one of my French friends, he was showing me someone who is making cheese and we went to this person’s house, it just scared me. He just had racks and racks of these cheeses sitting out in the open air, inside an open room and I thought, I’m glad I’m not eating one of these cheeses. I’m sure they’re fine, but there was no control there, no sanitary control, no temperature control, it was out of control.
Miyoko Schinner: But you know it’s interesting because that’s really how man’s been making cheese for thousands of years. Even in Europe today, there are people and I’m not a French speaker, I’m trying to remember the, there’s a proper French term for the person who ages the cheeses and so they often might have a natural cave and their sole job, they don’t actually make cheese. All they do is age it and they make sure that the… but their doing it in caves and that’s how people have been doing it for many, many, many eons. So, if you think about the kind of bacteria that’s in cheese or any kind of fermented product, the idea of having something that’s cultured with a PH is low enough and you have a low enough water activity, those are going to be things that are going to prevent the wrong stuff from growing, so it’s really controlling all of that, so there are some wonderful things that are growing in all fermented foods from yoghurt to Kimchi pickles, that are going to prevent the bad pathogens from growing.
Caryn Hartglass: Right and in different areas, when we ferment things, it takes the bacteria that’s in the area so.
Miyoko Schinner: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you’re in a controlled facility and maybe that won’t be as affected with the environment outside.
Miyoko Schinner: I think there’s always going to be airborne bacteria and airborne yeast that are going to get onto things. But we do have, but we’re not sterilising the air or anything, but we do have a very, very clean facility and visitors will be able to see it when we open up a retail shop sometime next year. We had these huge beautiful picture windows that looking into both the production facility, where we’re making the cheese, as well as the aging room, we have a state of the art aging room, where we’ll be, we’ll have up to ten thousand units of cheese on racks aging and so you’ll be able to look into it and see all these beautiful rounds of cheese aging in there, so you will be able to see it and I think people will be impressed how clean and sanitary our facility is because we really taken all precautions to do that. But despite that there’s still air and anytime you have any kind of air, there’s going to be some form of bacteria and yeast so you can’t remove all of that, so some of that will be there.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s good.
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah that’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a good thing. Now, let’s talk about the cheese, so I’m on your Miyoko’s Kitchen website, miyokoskitchen.com looking at some of these beautiful pictures and I actually got my cheeses today, so I got to sample a number of them. For people out there, American’s especially who aren’t that sophisticated when it comes to cheese and our mostly American cheese slice kind of people, they may not be aware of some of the traditions that are used with cheeses and a number of your products kind of go along with some traditional ways of enhancing the cheese flavour or flavour in the cheese or kind of quote, packaging the cheese. I thought we might talk about some of that. So you have Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash, which is stunning and just to look at is stunning, but it’s something, using an ash on the outside of a cheese, is something that’s been done for a long time.
Miyoko Schinner: It has, it’s been done for centuries in Europe and there are some American cheese makers such as Cowgirl Creamery that feature ash as part the, as one of the ingredients in the cheese, so there are many, many other companies doing it. Another treatment of using ash is they’ll often use ash because it makes the surface more alkaline and it helps certain moulds such as penicillim candidum, which is the white mould on camembert and brie helps that to grow better. So a lot of your camemberts and bries will have that sprinkled on the surface beforehand. Its just natural vegetable ash or it can be from wood or vegetable matter, some sort of green matter that gets turned into a carbon state, that’s a very traditional ingredient that’s been used for centuries.
Well some people think they should also take in a little charcoal every day because it cleans the body, so it’s not a bad thing, it’s a beautiful thing.
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah, apparently it pulls the toxins out of your body, is what I understand. Activated charcoal or carbon, people do take that and water just to pull the toxins out of the body, so.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, it just has a lovely contrast with the creamy whiteness of the cheese, beautiful.
Miyoko Schinner: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And then the other one I tried was the Country Style Herbes De Provence and I have my own personal love affair with the Provence region. I lived in the Provence for four years I loved the Herbes De Provence and this is another traditional way to prepare cheese.
Miyoko Schinner: It is, yes, I’ve really borrowed from tradition, from mostly European traditions and then just, but used vegan ingredients to produce cheeses that are somewhat reminiscent of really very traditional and artisanal cheeses.
Caryn Hartglass: And you know in some ways I understand how we want to make products that are like the products we’ve been familiar with, on the other hand I think that all of these lovely vegan foods that have come along over the years are unique and individual and should stand on their own.
Miyoko Schinner: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you know some people might whine and say why do you want to have cheese that tastes just like cheese, why don’t you eat cheese?
Miyoko Schinner: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: They say that about meat analogues to and all of that is just nonsense.
Miyoko Schinner: We don’t actually become vegan because we don’t, it’s not because we hate, we hated meat or cheese it’s because we we’re trying to…
Caryn Hartglass: We know who they are.
Miyoko Schinner: We did it for another reason. But it didn’t mean that we didn’t like those flavours and I don’t see any problem with enjoying, reliving those flavours. I mean, it’s just not, is it really cheese or is that sensation of something that’s fatty and rich and creamy and you can have with your wine on a Friday night, when you’re trying to unwind or something. I think there is an occasion for all of these things. I myself don’t eat my cheese on a daily basis because I’m more of a beans and rice and veggies kind of gal but I certainly want to have sort of an elegant spread of cheeses for a special occasion and be able to enjoy that without harming my body or the environment or animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah well, even when I lived in France and the few times that I would go to one of these outrageously expensive, incredible restaurants and unfortunately I was always aghast because I couldn’t afford to go to them, but when you would come to the cheese course which I wouldn’t get, they would slice you very small taste of a variety of different cheeses you’d never really have half a pound of cheese.
Miyoko Schinner: No, no.
Caryn Hartglass: That rich, luxurious lovely flavour.
Miyoko Schinner: That’s really what it is. It’s just enjoying a bit of luxury you know that’s really what it’s for and that’s sort of the meaning of it and you know and I definitely have an interest in coming out with a line of more everyday cheeses, your Swiss and your Cheddar and the kind of stuff that you put on a pizza, the mozzarella or whatever, grilled cheese sandwich. But I really wanted to set the bar high, when we rolled out our product and come out with just a unique line of just stellar artisanal products that would show people not just vegans but…
Caryn Hartglass: Everybody.
Miyoko Schinner: Everybody. Vegan cheeses, you can do this and you can do this with plants.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there’s only real ingredients in your cheeses.
Miyoko Schinner: Thankyou for noticing.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s only real ingredients, there’s no gums or anything.
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah, if you look at lot of plant based or vegan cheeses on the market the first ingredient in a lot of them is oil and the second ingredient is some sort of starch and so you’re paying whatever. People say our cheeses are expensive because they’re ten to twelve dollars for one round, but you know when you go out and buy one of these vegan cheeses you’re paying four ninety nine for oil and starch and gum so you’re not paying for real food you’re paying for, for oil and starch.
Caryn Hartglass: And not only are these foods real, they’re mostly organic.
Miyoko Schinner: Well not only mostly, that’s correct, we are certified organic. All of our products except for the ash, the ash is made from organic ashes as well but that product is not certified organic because the ash can’t be, but everything else is.
Caryn Hartglass: Beautiful, okay I had two more products, one of them is the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf and what a beautiful thing and something I love about nature is how it gives us everything we need. I love the foods that come packaged, for example, I love to travel with a Papaya, it’s just easy and all you have to do is slice it open and there it is, it’s already packaged. A banana is packaged, you don’t need to wrap it and wrap it and wrap it and wrap it and then we have these beautiful leaves, like fig leaves, that work perfectly to wrap a cheese and that’s another tradition.
Miyoko Schinner: It is another tradition and I love fig leaves. People don’t usually think about using fig leaves for culinary purposes, they often use grape leaves but not fig leaves. Fig leaves are extremely aromatic and flavourful and they impart this sort of sweet floral per fumy essence to the cheese that is just incomparable.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I noticed that right away, that fruity sweetness mixed in with a tang. Yeah, very nice, now can you eat the fig leaf?
Miyoko Schinner: You can, you can and it’s been, it’s not just the plain raw fig leaf, it’s one that’s been brined in a wine, a brine made out of wine. Of course it’s an organic wine, organic vegan wine that we got from northern California as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you’re in the right place to do this because.
Miyoko Schinner: We are.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s where all the good organic plants are growing and then the last one that I tried was the cheddar, let’s see I’m looking for the actual name.
Miyoko Schinner: Is it the aged English Sharp Farmhouse.
Caryn Hartglass: It was the aged English sharp farmhouse, yes.
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah well, we can’t really use words like cheddar or we can’t even…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh right.
Miyoko Schinner: Really use cheese. We’re not supposed to because there are, they are called standards of identity and they are, they can only be used for products made out of dairy milk so either goat’s milk or cow’s milk but not from cashew milk.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Miyoko Schinner: So we have come up with our own name to describe these beautiful products and that is cultured nut product. So next time you smile for the camera say cultured nut product.
Caryn Hartglass: I will. Cultured nut product, but you know we need to work on getting the cheese to be a little more a little more, what do I want to say, open minded, just like we’re fighting for rights for individuals for freedom, I think “cheese” needs to a broader term.
Miyoko Schinner: Yes absolutely and you know just like soy milk, at one time they had the same battle and they eventually won so it’s very, very possible that eventually we will be able to call our products cheese, but right now everybody knows we’re talking about a cheese alternative product. We just try to avoid using that word in the media.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Miyoko Schinner: We’re fighting for other people, to let other people call it cheese we just can’t do it ourselves.
Caryn Hartglass: But the ones that I’ve seen in the store, the ones made with all artificial ingredients that don’t taste very good, they don’t say cheese on them, soy cheese or they say cheese alternative, is that what they say?
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah it’s a California law ruling actually for manufacturers in California and there are lots of companies that just aren’t on the radar. California just doesn’t have the bandwidth to go out and shut down every manufacturer that uses the word cheese on their packaging, but we just wanted to play it safe, we just didn’t want to take that risk, so we didn’t.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, let’s talk about that Aged English Sharp Farmhouse nut milk loveliness and it has a drier firmer texture than the other cheeses that I tried and it had that dryer ness consistency that you get in those other things that we don’t want to talk about anymore.
Miyoko Schinner: that’s right and that was what I strived for we wanted to have a… we wanted to have a cultured nut product that really was reminiscent of a aged english sharp cheddar, nothing like that exists on the market, so without using the word cheddar we came up with Aged English Sharp Farmhouse which without using the word cheddar you knew immediately what we we’re trying to do, which tells me that hey we kind of did okay there and that one is aged, that’s one of the rounds that gets aged for I can’t tell you exactly how long because that’s proprietary, but anyway its aged for weeks and weeks and weeks in our aging room and so if you come and visit you’ll be able to see.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yes, I will definitely and I was planning on it but my schedule got all crazy this month. You have a number of directions to go in now, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now and your just getting started but you mentioned making some of the more everyday cheeses, but also, there are lots of cheeses are aged for a very, very, very long time and that adds to the expense and the cost of course, but is there a plan to do that, what’s the longest you’ve ever aged a cheese yourself?
Miyoko Schinner: Over a year.
Caryn Hartglass: And what was it like.
Miyoko Schinner: It was very, very hard, like a parmesan and it gets stronger in flavour. You can grate it on a micro plane, it’s so fine, its sort of granular and hard so there’s a lot we can do, but having to age cheese for a year takes up a lot of space.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep.
Miyoko Schinner: So it’s not real estate that we have right now, but that is definitely an interest that I have somewhere down the line, I would love to do that. Another thing that we want to roll out in spring of next year is a bloomy rind cultured nut product. Some of your listeners may not know what a bloomy rind cheese is. Those are the cheeses that have that white mould on the outside like camembert or brie and so we have one that’s phenomenal and it gets, as it gets older the flavour gets stronger and gooier in the middle and our cheese consultants are… the ones that we hired, these are their words, they tasted it and they said I would buy this, this is just like brie. That was to me the highest compliment and we, so we want to roll that one out that was a little finickier than what we’re doing right now.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just curious what the consultants thought about what you were doing?
Miyoko Schinner: I think they thought we were crazy initially and now they love us and we love them, they’re phenomenal and I predict they’re going to be vegan because they’re really interested in it.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah.
Miyoko Schinner: They had many meals with us and asked all these questions about veganism and they’re just so interested
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Miyoko Schinner: And they’ve done so much to help promote our product as well to omnivores, like when they go speaking they served our cheese to a big group of people at a food festival and the response was phenomenal people didn’t believe it was vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah well, I’m looking forward to the day when a movie comes out and the vegan Miyoko’s vegan cheese wins over the French vegan cheese, just like what was that movie with the California wines versus the French wines.
Miyoko Schinner: Oh yes, yeah that was stags lee, I believe years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, okay we have a minute left Miyoko, where can people get your cheese, their probably salivating now, after we’ve spoken about them so.
Miyoko Schinner: Well you can go to miyokoskitchen.com and you can order online. Right now we’re taking pre orders and shipments will start on September 22nd. We are also going to be in stores, we’re just setting up distribution with various distributors throughout the country, so you will begin to see it in stores over the next few months, that’s going to take some time, so the surest way to get it right now is to go to our website and that once again is miyokoskitchen.com
Caryn Hartglass: And these cheeses when they get to the stores will likely be in the cheese section, right not in a…
Miyoko Schinner: No, we’re going to have them in the alternative cheese section along with all the others.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Miyoko Schinner: And that’s where we want to be, but that’s where the vegans go and we’re right now we want to promote it first of all to our core audience, the people that have supported us and bought my books and so on and who come out to hear me talk at various venues around the country and those are the people we want to satisfy first and then we’ll spread our wings and get out to everybody else.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, awesome, thankyou for talking to me today Miyoko. I’m so excited, I’m so glad you’re doing this. Time marches on and all good things are happening.
Miyoko Schinner: Well, I’ll talk to you maybe in another two years Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: No, I’m going to come and see your facility sooner than that.
Miyoko Schinner: Okay, great. I was talking about on your radio show. We’ll have to do this again with Talia Fuhrman.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. September in two years.
Miyoko Schinner: Yeah, that’s right. Thankyou so much for having me on your show Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Your welcome and thanks for the cheese, the nut product.
Miyoko Schinner: The cultured nut product. Ok, bye bye, from one nut to another.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye, okay that was Miyoko Schinner. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to Its All About Food join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Lara Allan, 9/18/2014