F&W Game Changers: Miyoko Schinner
Miyoko Schinner's eyes light up and her hands grasp her heart the moment she begins to speak about cheese. It has been decades since she has eaten the dairy version, but it's her deep obsession with all cheeses—stinky, creamy, pungent, salty, and ripe—that inspired her to launch her vegan dairy empire. These days, Schinner, the founder of Miyoko's Creamery, makes her cheese plates with stretchy mozzarella made from cashew milk, a soft sharp cheddar spread made from rice, and wheels of truffle cheese crafted from mushrooms and coconut oil. It's an impressive operation that involves two cheese caves for aging, a full lab for testing new recipes, and big ambitions for the future.
Schinner has long been a revolutionary force in the world of animal-free food. Over the past four decades, she has written vegan cookbooks, taught cooking classes, opened and shut a vegan restaurant in San Francisco by the name of Now and Zen, and launched a vegan natural foods company and vegan brands, including a competitor to Tofurky. In 2012, she published Artisan Vegan Cheese the seminal cookbook that put vegan cheesemaking on the map. "I've since visited several little mom-and-pop shops [around the world] based on my book," says Schinner. "I like to joke that it's the book that launched a thousand cheese companies." But none have managed to scale like her own.
Schinner founded Miyoko's Creamery, her "creamery of tomorrow," in 2014, at first focusing solely on high-end artisanal vegan cheeses—something that was next to impossible to find on the market at the time—before launching other popular products like a dairy-free cultured butter. Today, the line includes everything from an actually melty mozzarella to a cream cheese that's practically indistinguishable from the dairy version to cheese wheels that appear on the cheese boards at upscale restaurants.
Schinner first became a vegetarian around the age of 12, when she made the connection that the meat on her plate had in fact once been living animals. She didn't go vegan until her early 20s, by which point she had already fallen deeply in love with rich dairy products. Schinner taught herself to cook by working her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, replacing the meat with vegetarian options. "Then, when I went vegan, I was like, 'Oh my God,' because for me, the good life was pouring heavy cream or butter into everything," she recounts. "I was like, 'How am I going to eat?'" There were no internet searches to be done (it was the 1980s), but Schinner, who was working as a jazz singer in Tokyo at the time, found inspiration from a Japanese TV show where nuns coated tofu with ash before burying the blocks for several days. This technique transformed the tofu into an extremely buttery "cheese." It was an aha moment for Schinner, who has often since turned to her Japanese heritage for cooking and fermentation techniques not commonly used in Western kitchens. Schinner and her team are constantly experimenting with different bases—nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes, and more—to ferment and transform into vegan dairy products.
Schinner is now on a mission to build a vegan creamery that can compete with the big companies in the dairy aisle. She has plans to roll out several new products, including a vegan feta, vegan cheese sticks, and a first-of-its-kind vegan cottage cheese. For the dairy-free visionary, this is just the beginning. As she says, self-assuredly, "I don't want just a little cheese shop."