Okay, you may rightly peg us as vegan nerds for this, Reader, but one thing we were really jazzed about once arriving in Los Angeles was being able to try out the fabled Kite Hill vegan cheese.
Faithful readers may remember us mentioning Kite Hill back in June when we interviewed Chef Tal Ronnen, Co-Owner of the new plant-based fine dining hotspot in LA, Crossroads. Ronnen started Kite Hill along with a former cheese-making instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, an ex-Laura Chenel Chèvre cheese-making operations expert, and a Stanford University biochemist. So yes, Kite Hill rolls deep.
As Ronnen told us at the time when asked what makes Kite Hill’s products different from other non-dairy cheeses out there: “Our cheeses are made like traditional cheese. We make the milk, form a curd, press the cheese and age them. Most other nut cheeses are ground up nuts then pressed to look like cheese.” They elaborate on their process on the Kite Hill Web site:
“From the beginning, we were adamant that our process follow the time-honored techniques of traditional artisanal dairy cheese-making. This meant using only a short list of the best ingredients, superior French equipment in our aging rooms, and going through a lengthy and painstaking process of trial and error rather than taking shortcuts. Our products start with our proprietary nut milk, perfected over many months of recipe testing and visits to almond farms throughout the San Joaquin Valley. As there are seasonal fluctuations in the flavors and textures of tree nuts, we custom blend each batch of nut milk for every cheese we make. The nut milk is then pasteurized and inoculated with naturally occurring enzymes and a specially developed lactose-free culture by our team. This mixture is allowed to coagulate slowly to let the curd fully develop the unique flavor and character that will define each cheese. Finally, the curd is distributed by hand into traditional cheese molds and aged.”
How’d they do? Well, to be honest, I personally was not that impressed with their first two products, the Cassucio + the Truffle Dill + Chive. Both are soft cheeses and, while they tasted great, I just couldn’t get over the texture—it essentially struck me as an overdeveloped, trumped up tofu made with tree nuts instead of soy beans. Note that my wife + partner in all things design + culinary totally disagreed—she loved both of them from the start and had us regularly returning to re-up our supply. And they did both grow on me after, say, the seventeenth time we had them.
But a couple of weeks back, Kite Hill announced via their Facebook page that they would be debuting their third product, the White Alder cheese. As they describe it, “White Alder is a soft ripened velvety cheese with a white, fluffy rind. It has a tangy mushroomy flavor profile with a rich, silky texture and pungent aromatics. This cheese is best served straight from the refrigerator and pairs well with white grapes.”
The White Alder is a total game-changer in the vegan food world. They can’t say it, as it’s a proprietary geographical indication (like Champagne or Vidalia), but the White Alder is essentially a vegan, nut-based Brie. And, from what my palette can recall, it’s spot-on. Its soft, earthy rind would have any eater of traditional cheeses fooled and the taste of the soft, gooey cheese inside is pungently authentic, giving off a strong unami taste. If you’re in California, vegan or not, give it a try. I’m betting you’ll love it as much I—and the cows who weren’t factory farmed to make it—do.
Right now, Kite Hill’s products are sold exclusively by Whole Foods and can usually be found along side their not-so-animal-friendly counterparts in the refrigerated cheese section of the store. As you can tell by their locator map, Kite Hill’s currently only available in California—sorry East Coast!
You can also find Kite Hill cheeses on the cheese plate at Ronnen’s restaurant, Crossroads. Again—sorry East Coast!
No word yet as to when to expect their fourth cheese in stores—the exciting, seemingly sliceable Costanoa, a semi-soft cheese encrusted with a crust of paprika + fennel pollen. Hopefully stay tuned for rave reviews of that one.