Got Pizza? We do now! (Photo: courtesy of Daiya)
As most vegans know, the biggest thing to hit our culinary universe this year is Daiya. It’s a totally yummy vegan cheese that melts and shreds just like dairy cheese. (Check out SuperVegan’s love-letter, er, review.)
We thought we’d take a look behind the curtain and find out more about the wizards behind this new Canada-based cheesy phenomenon. Here they are, the Daiya Dudes. Andre Kroecher is the mad-scientist inventor of Daiya, and co-founder of the company with business-savvy Greg Blake.
SuperVegan: Why did you set out to create vegan cheese and what were your main criteria?
Andre Kroecher: I have always really loved dishes such as pizza, lasagna, quesadillas, burritos, which typically have cheese in them. Being a vegan though, I found that simply removing the cheese from these left me terribly disappointed. I tried replacing the cheese with extra salt and olive oil, but to me the taste and texture is just not nearly as satisfying.
Having a background of more than 10 years experience as a product developer, I had a real passion for trying to invent a vegan cheese that might actually have the properties of real cheese. I also love imported exotic cheeses and other European cheeses like havarti, so I decided to just start experimenting to see if I could make something that would satisfy me more than the other [products] out there. I tend to naturally approach things in an unconventional way and this yielded some unexpected results. Eventually, I developed a block of something quite like a soft havarti style cheese.
Greg Blake: When I tried the havarti style cheese Andre made I was convinced that it had commercial potential, but what would be even better would be to create a cheddar and mozzarella style vegan cheese that actually tasted, shredded, sliced and melted like dairy-based cheese.
We wanted chefs and food preparation staff to be able to use Daiya just like cheese – on a pizza in a conveyor oven running at very high temperatures, in a salamander [broiler], in a sauce, baking – you name it. All things considered, it was a pretty tall order. Andre and I set up R&D kitchens in our own homes and went to work. Eventually we ended up with some exciting and unexpected results, but both of us know that the R&D has just begun.
SV: How is Daiya different from the other products on the market?
AK & GB: There are some great products out there and all categories of vegan food are constantly improving as is demand, which is good for everyone. People like Bob Goldberg from Follow Your Heart are real pioneers who actually helped create this category and should be applauded for all of the great products he and Follow Your Heart provide to vegans [such as Vegenaise and Vegan Gourmet cheeses - C.C.]. As for our products compared to others, Daiya differentiates itself in that it brings together all of the desirable attributes of dairy-based cheese in terms of taste, shredding, slicing and melting without casein, soy or any common allergens.
SV: How did you settle on tapioca as a main ingredient?
AK & GB: Tapioca is actually only one part of the puzzle. It works in concert with the other ingredients. But a large part of what gives Daiya its unique properties has more to do with our proprietary manufacturing process.
SV: What’s up with the name ‘Daiya’?
AK & GB: Daiya is a play on the word dairy – it’s like dairy but different. We didn’t want to try so desperately to say some version of the word “cheese,” especially since there are quite a few of those in the market already. We wanted to create a distinct brand that can stand on its own – and thanks to all of the early vegan adopters we’ve made a good deal of progress given that the company is less than one year old.
SV: When will Daiya go mainstream retail – meaning, when will folks be able to buy it at their local grocery stores?
AK & GB: We anticipate launching our retail product in spring of 2010. Many consumers have wondered why it is taking us so long to get to retail and we certainly understand their frustration. Our approach is based on our corporate philosophy of creating the very best tasting and performing vegan products we possibly can. We concluded that the only way to achieve our goals without compromise was to produce the retail products in an entirely new manufacturing facility which is, of course, both time consuming and expensive to get up and running.
SV: Are there ready-made food brands or national restaurant chains that are – or will be – using Daiya in their products?
AK & GB: Gardein and The Higher Taste Vegan Buzzito are products using Daiya that are currently available. We are working with a number of other well known manufacturers and expect more products using Daiya to be released very soon.
SV: What’s your favorite way to enjoy Daiya?
Andre: I love to make pizzas and quesadillas. My favourite, however, is to prepare a mixture of sauteed black or pinto beans with onions, garlic, and peppers, add fresh tomatoes and cilantro. Turn off the heat and cover with shredded Daiya and leave the lid on the pan. After a few minutes, the residual heat and steam [will] make a nice cheesy topcoat on the beans.
Greg: Nothing resonates with my idea of comfort food like a Daiya grilled cheese sandwich. When I serve grilled cheese sandwiches made with Daiya to my non-vegan friends and family they have no idea that it isn’t made with dairy-based cheese – I still get a kick out of that.
SV: When did you go vegan and why?
Andre: I grew up on a strict vegetarian diet as both my parents were vegetarian. It was a logical progression for me to go vegan for so many reasons. We had a miniature dachshund or “wiener dog” and I figured that if I wouldn’t eat him, how could I eat other animals which are easily as emotionally developed? In the early ’90s my wife and I started going vegan and pretty much phas[ed] out the last remaining dairy (cheese) from our diet. This was largely in response to all of the information relating to [the] ethical and health aspects of vegan diets. I remember waking up and realizing that if I had to be born a livestock animal, a modern dairy cow would have to be the worst because of the prolonged torture these animals have to endure before their eventual slaughter. When T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study came out it really reinforced my feelings on the health aspects relating to animal product consumption.
Update: Due to a technical error, Greg’s answer to the vegan question was omitted from the original post. Here it is.
Greg: I became a vegan in 1978 when I first moved to Toronto. I had read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and it had a profound effect on me. I remember feeling disappointed with myself – it had never occurred to me how food magically appeared at the grocery store and how that might impact an animal’s welfare. Back then, it was pretty slim pickings for vegan restaurants and grocery options so I was compelled to learn about cooking from cultures where vegan dishes were staples. Although my parents were very good cooks, they stuck to traditional North American fare, so veganism exposed me to a whole new culinary experience. Still, I missed some of the traditional comfort foods and longed for the day when great tasting vegan alternatives would arrive on the scene. That day has come and we now have so much wonderful food to choose from, and with great chefs like Tal Ronnen to guide us, it’s the advent of a whole new era for vegans.
To stay on top of all things Daiya, visit their website www.daiyafoods.com.