Five years ago, chef Youssef Fakhouri decided to sequester himself in his West Hollywood home kitchen with a singular goal: to find the secret to making nut-milk cheese taste like the “real” thing.
Around the same time, chef Tal Ronnen began searching for a way to successfully apply traditional European cheese-making techniques to nut milk and even enlisted the help of a Stanford biochemist.
Clearly, the race to find a non-dairy cheese that doesn’t taste like sawdust has been an impassioned one. The result? L.A. is having a delicious artisanal vegan cheese moment, with Fakhouri’s new WeHo cheese shop Vromage and Ronnen’s Kite Hill line of cheeses.
Fakhouri won’t reveal the secret technique he stumbled upon to give his nut- and seed-milk cheeses a flavor to rival old-school fromage. But let’s just say that in a blind taste test, we’d be hard-pressed to distinguish his pepper jack from the real deal. So far he’s created 17 cheeses that mimic the flavors and textures of their dairy counterparts, ranging from soft manchego to hard asiago. The cheeses slice and melt just like the real deal; Vromage serves them in caprese salads, sandwiches and pizza.
Kite Hill’s lineup, crafted from their proprietary almond milk, includes a soft-ripened cheese with a fluffy rind reminiscent of brie or camembert, as well as creamy ricotta and spreadable fresh cheeses. And the new cream cheeses (plain and chive) are a dead ringer for their dairy counterparts. Ronnen serves the cheeses at his plant-based restaurant Crossroads; you can try the cream cheeses on a bagel with his smoked heirloom carrot “lox” and taste the ricotta, which cooks just like the real stuff, in pasta dishes. Kite Hill’s products are also the first vegan cheeses to be sold in the Whole Foods gourmet cheese section.
So long, sawdust.