Food substitutes for those seeking a more wholesome diet for either health or ethical reasons, sadly rarely live up to the hype.
Take meat alternatives. They’re usually leaner, gentler on the environment and most definitely kinder to the animal world.
But all too often foods pretending to be something they’re not are a massive let down; ‘bacon’ rashers that have the consistency of leather; insipid, sawdusty ‘sausages’; dry, rubbery ‘mince’ and wishy-washy ‘chicken’.
Dairy-free chocolate; soya milk; margarine; vegan fish balls; powdered ‘egg’ made with tapioca and potatoes… there are any number of food stand-ins on the market.
However most are pale imitators, especially if you have experience of eating the ‘real’ thing.
Then there’s cheese. There are many reasons why someone would wish to avoid eating dairy made cheese: an intolerance to lactose; a desire to avoid fatty foods; calorie cutting; or a move to a vegan lifestyle.
Vegans don’t eat or use any animal products, so no milk, eggs, honey, meat or fish. Neither do they wear any clothes made from materials derived from animals, so they avoid leather shoes, woollen jumpers, silk shirts, and fur coats.
Despite the seemingly onerous restrictions, there’s evidence a growing number of British people are now turning to veganism.
Once seen as the preserve of sandal wearing, long haired hippies, animal rights activists and health obsessives, veganism has gone mainstream. The Vegan Society estimates there are at least 150,000 in the UK, although in analysing Google Trends - which tracks particular internet search terms - the Vegan Society reckons this number to now be much larger.
It’s easy to guess why. Food scandals like the horse meat fiasco, Mad Cow Disease, foot and mouth and TV documentaries showing the horror of battery hen farming, have seen veganism move from being a fringe movement to a feasible alternative.
Food substitutes have taken off as a result, with most supermarkets now stocking vegan products, including cheese.
But talk to vegans who grew up eating a wide ranging diet and time and again cheese is cited as one of the hardest foods to give-up.
While there are a plethora of substitutes on the market, most are highly processed and can use upwards of 15 ingredients to try and attain that genuine cheese texture and flavour. They rarely come close to the real thing.
But all that is hopefully about to change.
Tyne Chease (the misspelling is intentional) is set to launch not one, not two but seven different vegan cheeses on to the market at the end of May.
The new venture based in Heaton, Newcastle, is the brainchild of lifelong vegan Ami Tadaa.
The 24-year-old is confident her range which includes garlic and herb, smoky paprika, za’atar roule, chilli flakes, raw soft macadamia and ale and mustard varieties, will be a game-changer in the world of non-milk cheeses.
Tyne Chease specialises in traditionally aged 100% plant based, organic, gluten free, nut based cheeses. Instead of milk, Ami uses cashews and soya as the main ingredients, a process popular in America but on which she believes is unique in the UK.
The cheeses (or cheases – Ami is not allowed to use the conventional spelling as her products are plant-based) have already been receiving rave reviews from vegans.
She’s been trialling her range at vegan festivals across the country, including Europe’s biggest, held at the end of March in Brighton.
Fans took to the internet to sing her praises with one blogger, who writes under the name Ponderbug, explaining she had just moved to veganism and had been sceptical about non-dairy cheeses.
“The first one I tried made me want to cry,” she wrote. But then she met Ami at the Brighton event. “What Tyne Chease have [sic] managed to do though, is create a product so rich and perfect in texture I would honestly challenge anyone to tell its [sic] not the real thing.”
Vegan comedian Sara Pascoe is also a fan, predicting ‘you’re going to be a millionaire’ after she tried it.
Restaurants, cafes and delicatessens from across the UK were also impressed with Tyne Chease’s wares, with a number keen to stock the range once it is officially launched.
Such praise is music to Ami’s ears and confirmation that she has made the right choice in turning what had been a family hobby into a business.
Tyne Chease has been borne from growing up abroad in some of the world’s worst trouble spots and nine years’ experience of making her own vegan cheeses.
Ami’s parents, Abi Masefield and Peter Middlebrook, turned vegan just before the fledgling food entrepreneur was born and it is the only diet she has known.
Her father is a government adviser and is now based in Dubai, while Abi is a food policy consultant and lives in Stocksfield, Northumberland. During her life Ami has lived in Ethiopia, India and Afghanistan and immersed herself in the cultures.
It was while living in Delhi that as a 15-year-old Ami first began experimenting with vegan cheeses. “I decided I wanted to try making my own. I looked at lots of different cookbooks to get ideas and started making raw cheeses.
“My family really liked them, but I didn’t know if they were just being polite.
“I continued making them over the years and after I graduated (with a first class degree in business management from York St John University) I spent a year working in Dubai with my dad.
“When I came back to the UK I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself. But I had always thought I would go into something to do with veganism and help the cause.
“So I decided to start making cashew nut cheeses commercially.”
At present she makes about 30 200g rounds a day of the various semi-soft cheeses in the kitchen of her home in Heaton, Newcastle.
They are traditionally cultured, pressed and aged like a dairy cheese, and contain no artificial flavourings, gums, oils or starches.
A raw macadamia variety has recently been added to her repertoire and sold out during the aforementioned two-day Vegfest event in Brighton.
Despite the praise being heaped on Ami – especially by recent vegan converts looking to replicate the classic dairy cheese texture and taste they once enjoyed – she says she is unable to comment on the taste authenticity of her creations.
“Because I was born a vegan it has been difficult for me to judge. I have never known anything else. But it is great that people who are moving to a vegan diet love the cheeses and that the feedback has been so fantastic.”
Tyne Chease sells itself as a 100% plant based product rather than a vegan one.
Ami wisely says: “I don’t want to scare people away. What I am producing is an artisanal, handmade food. I want people to look on it as an artisanal cheese and a luxury product.”
Tyne Chease is part of a vegan explosion that seems to be going on in the North East at the moment.
The past year has seen the launch of the vegetarian-cum-vegan-cum largely gluten-free street food and home delivery company Wheatberry based in Gosforth.
Two vegan-friendly restaurants – the Painted Elephant and Super Natural, both in Upper Princes Square – have recently opened in Newcastle, joining the popular Sky Apple Café in Heaton.
NevFest (the North East Vegan Festival) has been selling out Sunderland’s Stadium of Light with a series of well received events, and there are a number of vegan-friendly health food shops, like Almonds and Raisins in Newcastle and The Honey Tree in Heaton.
Ami is more than happy to be part of this vegan surge.
“I really think Newcastle is a happening place as far as veganism goes,” she says. “It’s fantastic. I am from Newcastle originally, it’s why I called my company Tyne Chease and the logo incorporates the Tyne and Millennium bridges.
“I have always wanted Tyne Chease to be associated with the North.”
All being well, the undertaking will be flying the flag for the region from the end of May. And if the initial praise and interest translates into orders, then Ami hopes to soon be moving the operation out of her home and into new premises.
In the future she would like to look at making nut-free cheeses and catering for other allergies. There may even be a blue-veined version one day, possibly made using seaweed.
But she is anxious not to bite off more than she can chew ahead of Tyne Chease’s official launch.
Her main priority is to “make cheeses that can stand on their own next to dairy. I’m not trying to replicate dairy, I am making another kind of cheese that happens to be an animal-free product.
“But if I am creating cheeses that even non-vegans will enjoy, then I will be happy.”
Tyne Chease’s website will be launching on June 1, the day after the NevFest at the Stadium of Light, with an online shop at www.tynechease.com
Anyone interested in stocking any of Tyne Chease’s range can call Ami on 07527 741 269 or email firstname.lastname@example.org