There’s a show-stopper within our Veganuary ice creams with the strongest cult following: Lemon Cheesecake Crumble. This flavor contains the tangiest, most satiny dairy-free cheesecake swirl made from coconut yogurt, lemon juice and zest, and the amazing cashew cream cheese from Portland-based Heidi Ho! Foods.
Heidi Ho! founder and formally trained chef Heidi Lovig was ahead of her time. After switching to a plant-based diet and wanting to cry into every "cheeze" she could get her hands on, she set out to create her own, and began producing the only organic plant-based cheese on the market. Her company quickly garnered national attention after becoming one of the original Shark Tank success stories. We fell in love—hard—with their addictive cashew chévre. (Rumor has it our co-founder Tyler ate an entire case once.)
It’s clear by now that veganism isn't just a fad. Approximately one-fifth of new foods released in the UK last year were free of animal products, and U.S. sales of vegan products are growing 5x faster than conventional ones. Meat substitutes are popping up in some of the unlikeliest places—Burger King has an Impossible Whopper, Subway a Beyond Marinara Meatball Sub, and McDonald a P.L.T.
And finally, vegan cheeze is beginning to catch up. What's taken so long? First, it’s incredibly difficult to mimic the texture and flavor of milk proteins. Vegan cheeses are usually made from nuts, soy, oils, roots, legumes, seaweed, or starches. Some higher-end plant proteins required for a good cheeze, such as pea protein, aren’t available in huge quantities, and cheezemakers certainly aren’t privy to the same government subsidies that many dairy farmers are. Since they lack butterfat, most dairy-free cheeses are highly processed and filled with additives, stabilizers, and sodium. Heidi Ho!’s cream cheese, however, contains only water, cashews, non-GMO canola oil, coconut milk, lactic acid, yeast, and lemon juice.
Second, traditional cheesemaking can be lengthy and technical, filled with variability from temperature, humidity, microbial activity, and fermentation. Most dairy-free cheeses lack nuance and complexity, but some companies are trying to age them, adding enzymes or cultures for flavor, and are experimenting with fermenting. Some startups are even attempting to cultivate milk proteins in a lab without the use of animals whatsoever.
The pioneers of vegan cheese production started with simpler, blander fresh cheeses (think mozzarella) to avoid the aging process altogether, but gone are the days of pleading for just a little meltability and stretchiness. We now demand variety, texture, and sophisticated taste. We’re excited to try the latest from Heidi Ho!—Queso, Beer Cheeze, and Smoky Bourbon Cheeze Dip—and to see how the future of cheeze unfolds. Beer Cheeze ice cream, anyone?