It took a strange kind of genius to first look at warm milk, freshly curdled by the juices from a calves stomach, and think, if I leave that in a cave for 18 months wrapped in leaves I bet it’ll be delicious.

Vegan on Female First

Vegan on Female First

Of course, I exaggerate for effect, we can never know what coincidences and accidents led to humans preserving milk as cheese, it happened too far back in our collective history. What we do know is that it has developed into one of the culinary world’s greatest and most beautiful crafts. The interplay between history, time and place creates something of astounding regional variance and complexity, expressing, not only the land the animal was grazed on, but the rain on the fields and generations of tradition. It is one the world’s greatest foodstuffs.

I can already hear the vegans grinding their teeth and clenching their fists ready for a lynch mob so let me lay out a few facts. There has never been a greater conspiracy of mass cruelty and slaughter than the modern dairy industry, nor a more thorough collective willingness to completely ignore that fact for our culinary convenience.   Intellectually it is very difficult to defend the position that we have a moral right to use and slaughter animals entirely for our own purposes and yeah, when you look at it objectively, it is really weird. However, and I say this with every possible kindness, I have never met a group of people more completely obsessed with cheese than vegans, and I’ve been to France.

Vegans crave cheese more than almost anything else on earth, they blend nuts, ferment beans, hydrogenise coconut fats and sprinkle yeast on everything in a desperate hunt for something that tastes a bit cheesy. But, lets be honest, it is never cheese. Cheese is a culinary marvel, so simple in its execution, so steeped in place and history. Taking the milk from a cow grazed wild on local hillsides, fermenting it wrapped in the leaves of local trees and aging it in caves made salty by the sea air is a beautiful, if barbaric expression of place. Taking some supermarket cashew nuts from an unknown farm half way round the world, mixing them with a lab-made probiotic from a health food shop and then mixing them with a dizzying array of onion powders, nutritional yeasts and olives from a mind melting mix of countries and cultures does, in the end, produce something that tastes nice and a little bit cheesy, but it is most definitely not cheese.   Non-vegans stare on in bewilderment at this bizarre circus, “why don’t they just not eat cheese they wonder?” and, to be fair, they have a point.  

I think however, we have missed something in the mix. When you ferment nuts with a probiotic and leave it to achieve a ph of 4.4 you don’t get cheese, but you do get something that’s really nice to eat. It is a genuine new foodstuff, fermented nuts, simple in its execution, healthy and delicious to eat. Some chefs are even aging it for months and creating things of deep complexity and interest.   It is the embryo of a culinary revolution. So, here is my question… why do vegans spend so much time pretending that their foods are the very things they spend so much energy telling everyone they shouldn’t eat?   It’s an almost pathological obsession; aubergines masquerading as bacon, jack fruit as pulled pork, mushrooms as scallops, what is wrong with everyone?

Cheese is a wonderful craft, born in our collective dark ages and in the modern enlightened world it is unspeakably barbaric. In the same way, that, I’m sure, some feudal lords raised the torture and dismemberment of their enemies to a fine art, it is probably best left in the past. The same can be said of the craft of curing bacon and ham, slow roasting pigs and deep frying chickens. If you are a vegan these things are brutal anachronisms. If you spend your time desperately trying to imitate them in your mealtimes you are tacitly admitting that these are superior foodstuffs and that you wish you could eat them if only you weren’t so morally superior.  

Fermented nuts are delicious and, given enough time, human industry and a better name I am sure they can achieve a culinary sophistication equal to that of cheese, but they will only do so if they are allowed to be exactly what they are. There is no reason why your local supermarket can’t have 50 varieties of artisan, traditionally fermented nut preparations instead of cheeses in the fridge aisle, no reason at all. Vegans need to have confidence; they have no problem shouting about the evils of cheese and meat but seem to lack the same verve shouting about how delicious their own food stuffs are.   Perhaps if they stopped wasting so much time and energy trying to make food taste like something they spend the rest of their time campaigning against they could find the deliciousness that is already there. At the very least they may find enough brain space to come up with a better name than ‘fermented nuts”.

Richard Buckley is the chef proprietor of the 100% vegan restaurant and award winning Acorn in Bath that’s recommended in MICHELIN Guide 2019?

tagged in