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The Vegan Cheese Alchemist: Talking with Lori Robin

by Faye Sakellaridis

Do you need dairy to achieve the savory flavor of your favorite cheese? The lackluster taste of many vegan cheeses may suggest that you do, but not in the case of Cheezehound, a line of delicious handcrafted organic, cultured vegan nut cheeses by Lori Robin that truly rival traditional cheese. 

Lori, who acknowledges the less-than-stellar taste of most vegan cheeses, devoted years to playing dairy-free cheese alchemist. The result is a wide variety of sumptuous nut-based cheeses that the mouth can relish, and that can be used in any traditional cheese-based recipes. I spoke to Lori about what inspired her to make vegan cheeses, how she achieved such rich and vibrant flavors, why vegan cheese is ultimately the healthier choice, and more. 


My experience with vegan cheese has been that it usually tastes "fake," with weird, unappealing flavors. What inspired you to create gourmet vegan cheeses that are as savory and delicious as regular cheese?

Most vegan cheese is dreadful. I went to dinner at a place called Mexican Radio and ordered a burrito with just vegetables, beans, and rice. They asked me if I was vegan, and I said, "As a matter of fact, I am." They brought a burrito that just had the foulest taste on the planet. I asked, "What is this?" And they said, "They said you were vegan, so we gave you vegan cheese."

That weekend, I started doing my homework, looking at all these different recipes, taking dairy cheese and turning it vegan. I spent the next three years doing nothing but playing with making cheese. It's an alchemy.  

 

How do you achieve the authentic texture and taste of real cheese? 

It's from fermentation. The nuts are activated, which is the process of soaking them in order to increase their nutritional value. After they're wet and sprouted, the culture is is added to them, which ferments them. 

 

How do you get your cheeses to have the same color as their dairy counterparts? Do you use dyes? 

The color comes from the seeds. We use macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, almonds, cashews, etc. 

 

Cheezehound on display at The Alchemist's Kitchen (via instagram)

 

Does vegan cheese mold like real cheese? 

There are enzymes you can use to get the vegan cheese to mold. Roquefort (a blue cheese from France) is produced with a mold spore. You can use a mold spore in vegan cheese as well. It gives it a flavor. Not all the enzymes use to produce mold are animal-based.

Are there health benefits people should know about with vegan cheese? People tend to eat cheese as a source of protein. Does vegan cheese provide that? 

They are completely probiotic and live. You're eating your way to a healthy gut. You can get protein too -- hemp seed has an enormous amount of protein. Nut-based cheeses are so much healthier because of the minerals they offer. Plus, they're more easily digestible. 

 

Can you cook with vegan cheese the same way you cook with real cheese? 

Yes. They're meltable and creamy, like real cheese. You can make mac and cheese, grilled cheese, lasagna, moussaka… Anything you would use regular cheese for. 


Vegan pizza using Cheezehound mozzarella ( via instagram)

 

Do you have a personal favorite out of your vegan cheeses? 

The Cashevre and Barnebeld.

 

What do you see for the future of CheezeHound?  

I'd like it in everybody's refrigerator.