Los Angeles is a destination for many reasons, even in the midst of California’s ongoing drought and current heat wave (today’s high is 100 degrees). And while many points of interest in the city may come to mind first—Disneyland, the beaches, the mountains, Hollywood—there’s another reason to find yourself in the City of Angels, especially if you’re looking for incredible vegan cheese.
The vegan community is thriving in Los Angeles, with about one hundred vegan restaurants in the area. And it is also bursting with vegan cheesemakers. Blöde Kuh (which in German translates to “silly cow”) is quickly becoming a favorite among vegans and animal-based cheese lovers alike for its authentic cheeses that taste a world away from the waxy, processed soy-based stuff long marketed to vegans as the only option.
Blöde Kuh’s products are all cashew-based, and in addition to the vegan cheeses, the company also offers vegan yogurts (the tzatziki is unreal) and crackers. We caught up with husband and wife team Douglas Meyer and Maxi Mueller, Blöde Kuh’s founders, for a chat about their products, cheese making, and the importance of a quality supply chain.
Jill Ettinger: How did the idea for Blöde Kuh come to be?
Douglas Meyer: When Maxi went vegan, one of the things she missed most was her favorite childhood dish from Germany: “Kräuterquark”, a soft dairy-based herbed cheese. It took a lot of research and experiments to create a base that came close to that traditional German dish.
The result of all this effort was our flagship product, “Herbie Vore”. Furthermore, that adventure gave her the knowledge base and spurred her curiosity to try making more flavors. When we realized just how different we were from other creators, we knew we had to share this with the world.
JE: Why cashews?
DM: We went through a lot of trial and error, figuring out which base(s) worked best for our cheeses. Cashews have some unique physical qualities that make them ideal for making something creamy and fermented:
– They have a slightly higher sugar content (compared to other nuts), which means more “food” for the cultures we use, which helps us give the cheese a “sharp” quality.
– Comparatively speaking, raw cashews have a less-distinctive flavor than other potential bases such as coconut, soy, or almond. Whenever you’re eating something made out of, say, coconut, you’re always going to experience that essence of coconut, underneath the other flavors. That’s not something experienced when it comes to cashew-based products.
– There is no residue or byproduct for cashew “milk”. The entire cashew gets used, which means that the milk is comparatively creamier and heavier than, say, an almond milk.
JE: And why cheese?
DM: The short answer is our cheeses are really delicious, it’s time-consuming and difficult to make at home, and it’s not that much more difficult to make at scale.
One of our core philosophies is that people should get as close to their food as possible. This means growing and making your own food whenever possible, and getting to know your growers and makers when it’s impractical to grow and make your own. Cheese, whether we’re talking about dairy-based or plant-based, requires a lot of attention to detail and takes into account so many unseen variables that any recipes are rendered useless… A nut cheese that’s blended in a Vitamix in a 72 degree kitchen is going to be completely different from a cheese that’s blended in a lower-power machine in an 80 degree environment, even if every other variable is held constant.
We constantly meet people who say they make their own cashew cheese, but that it’s too much effort to make consistently. That’s the sweet spot for any food company with values like ours.
JE: Vegan cheeses have had a pretty bad reputation over the years. They’re slimy, a bit waxy, and taste more like Velveeta than anything you’d actually want to eat. But not Blöde Kuh. Why does your product taste so authentic?
DM: It’s common in this culture to hear people say “I love [dairy-based] cheese” or “I could never give up cheese”. But what do they actually mean when they say that? I don’t think they “love cheese”, they love the unique texture and flavor qualities of cheese: the sharpness, the creaminess, the density, the mouthfeel. Think about the flavor experience of “sharp”. Sharpness is almost exclusively used to describe cheeses. “Sharp” and “creamy”? Until recently, dairy-based cheese was the only thing that fulfills both of those at the same time.
We think most dairy-alternative cheeses start from the point of “people love cheese, how can we make something that tastes like and behaves like cheese?” And we don’t think that’s the right approach to making plant-based cheeses. What results from that approach are products that try to replicate dairy-based cheese, which basically amounts to an apology. “I’m sorry you can’t have cheese anymore, here’s the closest we could get to re-creating that experience.”
But if you break down dairy-based cheese to the needs that it satisfies? That sharpness and creaminess? That widens the frame considerably. It’s interesting you used the word “authentic” in your question, because that is one thing we don’t concern ourselves with. We’ll never sit in the kitchen and perform side-by-side tests with dairy cheeses to see if we’re “getting close” to replicating a dairy experience. All we do is start from those need states, that desire for sharpness and creaminess. Once we create something that satisfies those need states, we simply set about making delicious things. This approach keeps us focused on celebrating what we, as conscientious eaters, do have, instead of apologizing and yearning for the things we choose not to eat.
Being small and local also helps. All of our cheeses find homes within a week of production, usually less when it comes to farmers markets. This means we can keep a clean ingredient sheet. We don’t have to bastardize our food by adding stabilizers or preservatives. One of our goals is to push the industry in the direction of boutique, local creators who sacrifice nothing in terms of quality.
JE: You guys also make (amazing!) yogurt, are you branching out to other product categories as well?
DM: We always leave this as an open-ended question. We’re always curious, we’re always nurturing our creativity, and we’re open to whatever comes next. It always comes down to timing, and waiting for which adventure tugs our attention next.
Blöde Kuh is available at a few select stores in Los Angeles and a number of the city’s farmers markets.
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Images courtesy of Blöde Kuh