Biting into a slice of a Miyoko’s Kitchen VeganMozz-drenched pizza, I was nervous. It’s been more than two decades since I’ve eaten “real” cheese pizza, and plant-based imitations have never sated me. Most have left me rather nauseated and depressed. So, I routinely opt for cheeseless pizza; it’s the sauce that makes the pie anyway, right? You know, just like it’s Channing Tatum’s hats that make “Magic Mike” so worth watching.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Cheese—vegan cheese—that is. The category has indeed come a long, long way in recent years. The old cheese knock-offs loaded with hydrogenated oils, cellulose, carrageenan, and other delicious sounding ingredients that never did taste like cheese always strangely avoided the most critical component of cheese making: culture.
It seems like a no-brainer that cultures can do for soy, almond, or coconut milk what they’ve done for cow and goat, but for decades, commercial vegan cheeses were factory extruded waxy glops with a texture like processed cheese. in a word: gross.
Then, there’s Miyoko’s Kitchen, founded by chef Miyoko Schinner.
Her revelation—and it is one indeed—was simple: culture nondairy cheese in the same way dairy cheeses are produced. The process of adding gut-friendly probiotics greatly reduces the need for filler ingredients, and like other cultured products (kimchi, pickles, yogurt), produced the tanginess and bite that makes a cheese, well, cheese.
With a handful of hard and semi-soft cheeses already converting the vegan-cheese-averse, Miyoko’s recently launched a game-changer: a melting vegan mozzarella that puts all other vegan cheese to shame.
Like any vegan who stays up to date, I’d come to hear from people who had tried the new VeganMozz from Miyoko’s. “It’s amazing,” they’d tell me. I was skeptical, but oh-so-curious. As a 20+ year vegan, I’d heard this too many times only to be sorry I tried it as I reached for the digestive enzymes.
At the 2016 Natural Products Expo held in March in Anaheim, Calif., I was plagued with a debilitating sinus infection that completely voided my ability to taste or smell a thing. Still, I found myself seeking out Miyoko’s booth in hopes that my senses would return for even a nanosecond so that I could taste this creation.
First, I saw what looked like pizza. The cheese was completely melted. It was bubbly and browned in all the right spots. No shred shapes lingered like on Daiya or any other vegan cheese of pizzas past. It sat atop the pie a cohesive melty crown of cashews and coconut oil. I had to take a bite.
While my sinuses failed to give me that moment of taste bliss, I could feel the texture on the roof of my mouth that only comes from melted “cheese.” Nothing felt chunky or grainy, it slid around my tongue and oozed warmly down into my belly. My cheese-eating colleague swore it tasted like dairy so much that she wouldn’t have known the difference if we hadn’t told her.
For weeks after the encounter, I scoured every health food store in LA seeking out the VeganMozz to no luck. My sinuses had returned my sense of taste and I was anxious to taste this product. Then, while visiting family in Palm Desert, I glimpsed the VeganMozz at the local Whole Foods and snapped it up like a chunk of gold.
I trucked it back to Los Angeles several days later, and kept looking at it there in the fridge much like I imagine Leonardo diCaprio looked at his recent first Oscar win. Was it real? How will this change me? If I like it, can I have another (without fighting a bear)?
And finally, the day came.
I sauced up two pizza crusts, and forewent any toppings that could dilute the experience. I grated the VeganMozz onto the pies and popped them into the oven. I waited. After a few minutes, nothing seemed to change—just a familiar pile of shredded un-melting vegan cheese. Sigh. And then, alchemy.
The shreds started to spread and connect like tweens at their first school dance. Soon, the pies began to look like what I saw at Miyoko’s Expo booth—that is to say, they looked like pizza. They bubbled and browned until leaving them in the oven a second longer would be a crime against the Pizza Gods.
The first bite was tough to take. I was scared. Not only had the not-quite-cheese-cheeses always looked and felt funky to my tongue, but the tastes were just so wrong. If I had to describe the flavor of every other vegan cheese in one word, it would be this: Failure. But much like we now reward children who fail, giving them trophies for effort, unappetizing vegan cheeses made it to market because, I assume, no one wanted to keep saying “sorry, your product is totally terrible.”
Twenty years of cheese fearing made it hard to taste the first bite. Or maybe it was the fact that the pizza was still so piping hot—but I wanted to eat it that hot because I feared the texture would change the more it cooled off. I didn’t want to miss the melted cheese window.
I didn’t recoil. In fact, I suddenly had the urge to take another bite. And another. And far too many after that. What in the world was this stuff?! The texture of melted VeganMozz is identical—yes, identical—to melted dairy cheese. It’s less oily, but not really (one of the primary ingredients is coconut oil). The taste, like most cheese, is more texture—it’s creamy and soft, a little slimy but perfectly balanced. It’s sweet and savory. It’s something otherworldly.
While the decades that have come between my belly and dairy cheese make it hard to remember it completely, I do remember that there was something I always disliked about the taste of melted cheese (aside from the horrific cruelty connected to it). That is not present in Miyoko’s. Nothing about it makes me shudder and I definitely did not feel nauseated after eating it—and trust me, I ate a lot of it.
The reason this is all such a big deal, of course, is that cheese is addictive. Not in the cocaine kind of way, and not in the Channing Tatum movie-thon kind of way either (I can tear myself away from “Magic Mike”– I can!). But it’s somewhere in between.
According to a recent study published in the U.S Library of Medicine, casein–the protein in cheese–releases opiates called casomorphins. This makes your brain want it. Bad. Like, more than it wants a “Magic Mike” lap dance (sorry, Channing, I know there’s more to you than your looks).
And even after decades of not eating dairy cheese (vegan cheese does not contain casomorphins), the brain can still seek out that pleasure trigger. That’s precisely why Miyoko’s VeganMozz is so amazing. And again because it’s just so tasty, too: Channing Tatum.