New veganized foods have the white stuff to compete

Vegan products making their bow in Philadelphia stores soon are Hampton Creek's Just Mayo and Kite Hill gourmet cheeses.
Vegan products making their bow in Philadelphia stores soon are Hampton Creek's Just Mayo and Kite Hill gourmet cheeses.
Posted: January 24, 2014

SO: January 23 - too soon to call 2014 "the year of the vegan"? Not if you're New York Magazine, which noted last week that "news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic" have already declared it.

And who am I to argue?

Veganism is seeping into everyday life through so many channels, it's hard to keep track of the milestones. Two buzzed-about veganizations recently seen on Delaware Valley grocery shelves range from a jar of plain mayo to a line of artisan soft gourmet cheeses.

V for Versatile?

The more cultured of these, obviously, is the cheese. Kite Hill brought together celeb vegan chef Tal Ronnen (he helped Oprah Winfrey do a 21-day vegan cleanse and catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi's wedding), some other foodies and a biochemist to perfect a nut-milk-culture-enzymes combo that achieves a persuasive gourmet cheese flavor and texture. So far, three varieties are available, exclusively at Whole Foods: Casuccio, "a soft fresh with a supple, silky texture"; Costanoa, "a semi soft dusted with a piquant blend of paprika and fennel pollen"; and White Alder, "a soft ripened cheese with a delicate white rind, pungent aroma and velvety texture," according to a company press release.

I have sampled Kite Hill products, although as someone whose expert knowledge of gourmet cheese consists mostly of being able to recite Monty Python's "Cheese Sketch," I can offer only my uncultured reactions.

The White Alder and the Costanoa, tried on crackers, were pleasant enough, both rich and subtle, but they didn't exactly turn my world upside down.

The third, however, exactly did. I had one bite of the Truffle-Dill-Chive Casuccio and I immediately needed another. The dill was predominant, but the flavor quickly blossomed into delicious multiplicity.

"This is what folks like that hoity-toity John Cleese character were enthused about!" I thought.

Other characters in the Python sketch - like, say, Joe Lunchbucket - might be interested in a new mayonnaise called Just Mayo that's grabbing attention from no less than Bill Gates, an investor in parent company Hampton Creek.

Hold onto this mayo.

I tried Just Mayo in a couple of sauces, where it performed admirably, and in a sandwich (peppered Tofurky slices with shredded kale) that turned out totally delicious.

Vegan mayonnaise dates clear back to the 20th century, but the twist here is that the company first created a plant-based "egg" from which the mayonnaise is made, giving it a creamy, smooth texture and pitch-perfect taste that has won over egg-mayo adherents. The base product, Beyond Eggs, is the foundation of more offerings.

One is a cookie dough called "Eat the Dough," whose name slaps the egg industry where it hurts; eating raw egg-based dough is risky due to the prevalence of fecal bacteria. Hampton Creek aims to compete with eggs on an institutional scale and is taking no prisoners. Some Whole Foods stores are already using Just Mayo for regular deli sandwiches.

Gourmet cheese and mayo occupy nearly opposite food niches, but these new vegan versions share more than their off-white (perhaps even ecru) color: While cholesterol-free and relatively low in saturated fat and sodium, they're still full of flavor, adding zest and zing to the notion that this really may be the Year of the Vegan!

V for Vegan Society: At 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6, at Careme's, the gourmet restaurant at the Academy of Culinary Arts, at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, N.J., the American Vegan Society will host a Winter Dinner Buffet prepared by culinary arts students at Atlantic Cape Community College. $32 ($22 students). Reserve your spot by Jan. 27, at 856-694-2887.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 14-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. or @V4Veg on Twitter.

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