A vegan cheese was selected to win an industry award. Then the industry found out

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/04/29/a-vegan-cheese-was-selected-to-win-an-industry-award-then-the-industry-found-out.html


“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.”

Is a really bold attempt to arrogate more or less the entire human history of controlled-spoilage foods(or at least casein and lipid-heavy ones) to oneself on the basis that you own some cows and the other guy doesn’t.


“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. "… “One could make the argument that this is like a fraudulent cheese,” Kehler said. “As a cheesemaker, it’s a fraud. It looks like a cheese. It might taste like a cheese. But it’s not. It’s not connected to our historical understanding of what cheeses are.”

I’m with Matteo. It might taste good, and if it can fool judges, then finally there is an actually edible vegan cheese, it seems. Definitely about time.

But it’s not cheese. It’s not an artisanal product and it’s not made by coagulating milk. If that’s what they were judging, they have all the right in the world to reject it even if it won on taste.


The idea of vegan cheese that tastes like the milk-based one is actually pretty cool. If nothing else, this incident might garner them a lot of attention they might not have otherwise gotten. Maybe they could use it in advertising: it’s so good it fooled the experts.


Vegan “cheese” is not cheese - cheese is a dairy product (you know, made from animal milk) and not just a term of art - so please refer to it correctly as a cheese substitute suitable for vegans. This has been your pedantic message of the day. (Don’t get me started on “plant-based meat”)


I agree with above, while it is great news that there is vegan alternative that can compete with cheese on flavor/texture/whatever, it is not cheese per se.

And…I guess I’ll be the infantile one to /snert at “Weiner also wouldn’t say who tipped off the foundation about Climax.”


Someone has never had head cheese or quince cheese.

I agree with you that vegan cheese substitute should be labeled as such and that nowadays cheese usually applies to coagulated milk products but what you state above is simply not true. “Cheese” is a term of art that for the longest time in the history of the English language (and others, c.f. Leberkäse, pindakaas) denoted a specific consistency and form factor, but not raw material.


I disagree with a few previous posters. Re: the cheese issue, @Doctor_Faustus nailed it.
And to the main story: The almost winners entered the product into a competition based on the rules as written, including any definitions. Then when people found out it was a vegan product they got all riled up and instead of taking it with grace and changing the rules to avoid a repeat in the future, they’re acting like a bunch of whiny babies.
There are some exceptional vegan cheeses out there. Rebel cheese’s fromage is delicious.


I would argue that entering a product in a cheese competition implies a rule that the product must be cheese, even if the actual rulebook doesn’t mention it.


Then I would argue they could’ve entered head cheese, based on what you wrote above :wink:

I’m not saying it’s a great move, but if nothing in the rules said it had to be dairy-based cheese, then there’s no violation.


Oh, you mean ‘brawn’ and ‘quince paste’ - as in the regional appellations for those two food stuffs which are correctly categorized as a terrine & a jelly respectively?


The fact that they have alternate names is hardly relevant, is it?


Nay; i can call a potato a pomme de terre, have i now made it an apple because that’s what i want to call it?


From the article:

It wasn’t the fact that it is plant-based, since those products are explicitly allowed. But it had never been an issue since a vegan cheese had never impressed the judges enough to be named a finalist.


Where do you get that it isn’t an artisanal product? What about it is any less artisanal than Mateo’s? According to the Post’s article, the ingredients were:

Nothing in the Good Food competition guide seemed to imply that a cheese needed to be made from milk - it just had to taste like cheese apparently. They were retroactively disqualified because they used to use kokum oil, which hasn’t been assessed by the FDA as safe for human consumption. The cheese that won didn’t even use this ingredient, according to Climax.

I get that small-scale producers that try to adhere to higher ethical and environmental standards want to protect their products from big–agriculture, greenwashed cheeses. But I don’t think Climax fits that description, at least based on the information from the WaPo article and what can be found online.

My lot is with Zahn and Climax on this. If Mateo Kehler wants to accuse them of being industrialized, financialized, VC-backed stuff that is disconnected from nature, he should provide some evidence of that. His criticisms are also disconnected from why the cheese was disqualified, which apparently had nothing to do with the fact that it doesn’t contain milk.

ETA: If they want to move the goalposts, they should swallow their pride this year and create a new category for next year.


It’s not from the cheese region of the moon.


Cheese doesn’t have to be made with milk. Burgers don’t have to be made of meat. Milk doesn’t have to come from an animal.

There’s Milk Cheese and Not Milk Cheese, but it’s all still cheese.

It’s just a culture in a matrix - that matrix can be milk or nut based.




That would have been the gracious way to handle this, yeah


Indeed, and then they can draw more competition from others and increase attendance, earn more money, etc. etc. Capitalism is what this is all about anyways, so create the non-dairy category and be done with it.