Once upon a time, the vegan section of the dairy aisle was more or less a joke, stocked with plastic packets of rubbery, oily, starch-filled "cheeze"—a dubious word that appropriately conveyed just how short it fell compared to its melty, gooey, dairy-born parent. But times have changed. Nut cheese has reached new heights, in part because the people making it are increasingly using the same processes as dairy farmers: taking nuts from almonds to cashews to macadamias, blending them with cultures, and aging them to make spreadable cream cheeses, aged hard cheeses and everything in between.
“Until recently, only raw foodists made vegan cheeses—and they did it in very simple ways,” says Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese and owner of the Miyoko’s Kitchen line. “But recently the amount of vegan cheese on the market has skyrocketed.”
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"In the next few years, vegan cheese is going to go mainstream,” says Jay Astafa, the chef at 3 Brothers Vegan Café in Long Island. He's banking on that possibility; soon, his cashew-based mozzarella, based on a recipe he started developing in 2011, will be available to buy retail. This is not your vegan sister-in-law's plasticky cheeze, Astafa promises. It melts, it browns and it bubbles up on the top of your pizza—just as a cow’s-milk cheese would.