A Cheesy Controversy – Vegan For The Win?

A Cheesy Controversy – Vegan For The Win?


The cheese world is in a tizzy recently, and it’s opened up another huge debate about what ineffable qualities make up the identity of a food. The Good Food Awards are part of an organization that advances those who “humanize and reform our American food culture”, and are a big deal for American artisanal producers of tasty things to eat. This year, a California company named Climax Foods was slated to win the cheese category with – plot twist – a vegan blue cheese. That is, until the organizers retroactively seemed to alter the qualifications, in a move the Climax CEO Oliver Zahn claims was a backdoor disqualification, made under pressure from supporters of “real” dairy. 

The Washington Post’s deep dive goes into the politics, so in this space, we get to dig into the science. Which is fascinating – and something the opposing parties have also turned into ammunition.

“To Zahn, the method he’s using isn’t all that different from the one used for centuries. When it comes down to it, he notes, plants fuel the animals that produce milk – and so in concocting a milk made out of plants, Zahn says he’s just cutting out the middleman (or middle-bovine). In his analysis of traditional cheesemaking, a cow is essentially a processing machine – and not a very efficient one at that. […]

But traditional cheesemakers see the companies making vegan products as simply operating in another business entirely.

‘These are engineered products. And they’re part of a financialized food system that’s fueled by venture capital and disconnected from nature,’ says Mateo Kehler, co-owner of the family-run Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Kehler’s cheese has previously won Good Food awards, and his bark-wrapped, bloomy-rind Harbison cheese is a finalist this year. ‘You have these technological products, but they rely on adjacency to the value proposition that we have created –  through labor and through creating products that are truly connected to a landscape, to a farming system, and to our collective human history.’”

I think this is a harbinger – plus with Italy, and now the state of Florida banning lab-grown meat, our culture is starting to take action on what were, until now, philosophical questions about the nature of our food. It will be very interesting to see how the market responds over the next five years or so. Despite the kerfuffle though, the vegan blue “cheese” in question looks delicious; once they settle on what to call it and what awards it’s allowed to win, I’d definitely want to try a slice!