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Posted on April 15, 2016
How far will a person go for the love of cheese? Our co-founders quite their jobs and dedicated their life’s work to creating delicious dairy-free cheese. Now it’s time for the industry to keep pace. Judges at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin said we couldn’t compete. What’s our take? Keep reading.
Cheeze Louise, Lighten Up: Why Non-Dairy Cheese is Real
By Andre Kroecher & Greg Blake, co-founders of Daiya Foods
Cheese. Queso. Fromage. For many people, cheese is the perfect food. It’s like a glue that holds life together. The average American eats 34 pounds of cheese per year*, and it is revered by cultures around the globe. The former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, once shelled out more than 50 million euros from Italy’s funding reserves to help bail out the country’s beloved parmesan cheese business during an economic downturn. Recently, a study of its addictive properties went viral, prompting millions of cheese lovers to ask the question, “Is cheese really crack?” But no matter how you slice it, one thing is clear. People take cheese very seriously. And for those who love cheese, life would be emptier without it.
We love cheese so much that we quit our jobs and dedicated our life’s work to creating delicious dairy free cheese. We started out by selling our formulations of cheese and mozzarella shreds to a handful of local restaurants in our hometown. Before we knew it (after two long years), our products were picked up by bigger retailers, and from there we rolled out a wide portfolio, from cream cheese to cheddar blocks and slices. In fact, the popularity of our cheddar blocks propelled our cheese business, essentially making our company a national brand. Today, our cheese is featured in national restaurant chains and sold in more than 20,000 stores nationwide. However, despite all our success, our cheese is still not considered to be real in the eyes of the judges at the World Championship Cheese Contest, a biennial contest hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1957.
What’s the stink? How could this be? Well, despite the fact that hundreds upon thousands of folks rave about and enjoy it, our cheese is strictly plant-based, meaning it’s made from tapioca and pea protein instead of animal milks. The technicality prevented the judges of this renowned contest from acknowledging our cheese as “real” and disqualifying our submission. We understand that there’s a long history behind cheese making, and have the utmost respect for cheesemakers far and wide. But for the love of cheese, can’t we all have cheese and eat it, too?
After all, there is no denying that the state of food today is constantly evolving. With 10 percent of the U.S. now following a plant-based diet, 40 million Americans with lactose sensitivities, and countless others considering themselves as “mindful” eaters focusing on better-for-you or conscientious options, the cheese aisle has changed dramatically alongside the evolving needs of consumers. It’s happening in other areas as well. In fact, the USDA identifies milk as one of top eight food allergen. While almond, soy and rice milk were previously only found at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores, these alternatives are now the milk beverage of choice for many Americans, including those without lactose sensitivities. In fact, retail analysts at Mintel report that the dairy free market grew more than 155 percent from 2011 to 2013, while milk consumption in the U.S. has decreased by 36 percent since 1977. Even large corporations like Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and countless other chains now offer almond and/or coconut milk to suit changing tastes and a hunger for new options.
Partly driving this shift are more and more consumers realizing the health benefits of plant-based eating. Now that doctors have found that following a plant-based diet can reduce the chances of high blood pressure and heart disease by more than 30 percent, more people are adopting a plant-forward lifestyle. Others recognize the animal welfare and environmental benefits. They’re embracing plant-forward eating as a way to do their part in minimizing animal cruelty, and they’re doing their part to significantly reduce water consumption and their carbon footprint, which can contribute to climate change.
Thanks to innovation (and a love for cheese), the joy of cheese is now a delicious reality for those who can’t or choose not to consumer traditional cheese because if its lactose or dairy proteins. Much like how the milk aisle has evolved with the introduction of nut, grain and seed alternatives, we predict we’ll see a similar transformation in the cheese aisle as dairy free cheese becomes a part of the conversation out of sheer consumer demand. Part of the beauty of enjoying cheese is the discovery of new varieties that suit an evolving palate. Our hope is to help people everywhere—including judges at the World Championship Cheese Contest—realize that, today, cheese has come a long way, baby. The industry has a unique opportunity to embrace this change and show that it, too, has the capacity to evolve.
*2015 Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
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