“But don’t you miss cheese?” So many people have asked me this since I stopped eating dairy and – surprisingly (I’m Swiss after all) – the answer is no. Or was no. I tried a few vegan cheeses on the market, but most of them are made of coconut oil (which is very high in saturated fats just like dairy) and a bunch of additives. While the animal cruelty aspect of dairy cheese was a big driving factor for me to give it up there was also the health aspect and most vegan options didn’t do any better on that front so I decided I could totally live without any cheese full stop.
Then I spotted ‘New Roots’ in my local Whole Foods and was immediately intrigued by the list of ingredients. It makes a short read, there is no nonsense in these products and (apart from the Fondue and the Raclette) they contain zero coconut oil. Having now tried all their cheeses and some of their yogurts too I can honestly say they are even better than I thought possible (and I knew they were going to be amazing having tried the garlic & herb cream cheese they stock in Whole Foods).
So, what’s different, what are they made of? The main ingredient in all their products is fermented cashews. Using traditional Swiss fermentation techniques, they have somehow managed to create cheese as good as the real deal – made from nuts, rock salt and plant-based cultures. But does it make sense to use cashews from Vietnam instead of cowmilk from Swiss cows you might ask? Animal cruelty aside dairy also comes with a very large carbon footprint and although the dairy industry always pushes the ‘made locally with milk from happy Swiss cows’ angle, the reality is that a cashew-based cheese accounts for a fraction of the carbon footprint of a dairy cheese despite the cashews long journey to the factory, as shocking as this may seem*. In terms of the price yes, it’s more expensive than most of the other vegan cheese brands, just like any high-quality dairy cheese is when compared to a cheap, mass produced one. You get what you pay for and to me this is a little bit of luxury I will treat myself to every now and again, knowing that it’s good for me, good for the animals and good for the planet.
*A little more insight into the carbon footprint of New Roots cashew cheese. Their ‘Soft White’ (120g) produces 323g CO2e, compared with a dairy camembert which comes in at approx. 1500g CO2e for the equivalent amount. The main climate impact comes from the production of the raw ingredients (mainly the cashews) and accounts for 65% of the overall carbon footprint. The cashews come from Vietnam and Burkina Faso, where New Roots work with selected farms that have automated the opening of the nuts to prevent workers from burning their fingers. All workers are ensured fair working conditions and salaries. The cashews are transported by boat and only once a year, transport only accounts for 11% of the already low carbon footprint of this cheese (this includes the transport to the production facilities of New Roots, the distribution of the product to the shops and the transport of the packaging materials to the packaging facility). The packaging of the ‘Soft White’ accounts for only 7% of the total CO2 emissions. It’s made of 100% vegetable waste, CO2 neutral and recyclable. The New Roots factory itself doesn’t use fossil energy, they recycle the energy they produce in a closed circuit.
To me this is a great example of how food can be produced in a much more sustainable and ethical way. Done properly every step of the way and with full transparency, no greenwashing needed.