Anderson Santos Silva, originally from Brazil, is a passionate vegan and one of the leading artisan vegan cheese makers in the world. flowful meets... talks with him about CASHEWBERT, hits and misses in vegan cheese making and about an open source community.
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As the founder of CASHEWBERT Anderson Santos Silva puts a lot of effort into researching and experimenting to create the perfect vegan cheese using traditional cheese making techniques. Trying to understand the secrets and interactions of vegan cheese making, he wants to create open source knowledge, make his experiences available and use the community to further improve vegan cheese recipes.
We met Anderson after one of his vegan cheese making workshops in cosy ALASKA bar, a vegan café that offers delicious tapas and drinks in Berlin and wanted to know why he has that huge passion for vegan cheese.
CASHEWBERT: I’ve been vegan for 14 years and for me in Brazil vegan means no meat no cheese but cheese is on pizza. In Brazil we do actually use some creative things like tofu with olive oil and some spices to make on a pizza. And then I moved to Europe and then I realized that here cheese, especially in winter, you really miss that kind of fatty, depth kind of flavored food and I kind of struggled in the first years because I have many non-vegan friends here and to see how they eat is completely different from what I used to.
So, when I decided to go and like how can I actually do things in a vegan way, how can I do those cheese in a vegan way I noticed that there is a complete lack of knowledge about it. On the other hand I was looking for scientific papers and there were already some researches. So I was like, how can I make that, how can I do that, what kind of things can I do at home and don’t need any big equipment and that’s when I started about 2 years ago to try to make vegan cheese.
In the beginning I was doing tofu-like and I was putting some bacteria but it wouldn’t work out and then going through this learning curve of from tofu, and then I figured out that almond tastes better and is a bit more local and how can you process it to retain the fat and how to age it in a way to get cheese flavors using cheese cultures that, yeah, some are available using plant sugars instead of lactose. For me, summing this up, in the last 2 years it’s been quite a challenge and yeah, that’s where I am right now.
Before Anderson started experimenting with vegan cheesemaking, he was working as a computer programmer. Seems like the challenge to create something new is kind of like his personal driver.
CASHEWBERT: Yes. Many times I was like I’m gonna give up, I never get this, it’s like impossible. I’ve been working with it for 2 years and I had many ups and downs because it’s hard to know exactly how… Computer is hard. I mean you can, but it’s still you can do tests and it’s a controlled environment. You can see the results. In cheese you need a long time and then sometimes it doesn’t work that well and sometimes you have a great cheese and then you look back what have I done differently? Uhm, so it is a very long process and many times I was like it’s not gonna work and then I got my first good cheese and then it was fine, my camembert, and then I saw some people posting their recipes and I thought okay, if I’m not gonna make it right, other people will make it right if I give them everything that they need for it.
So that’s when I was like okay, I’ll put out my focus on CASHEWBERT and my plan was to make vegan cheese available but who was gonna make that, I don’t know. And that’s when I think things are starting to work out and the more, I was experimenting more and then I gave me this time to try different things and then say I did this, this, this and it worked and then people started using it and improving on top of it. So I see that happening and that’s when I think that it’s working, it’s on the right direction, but it’s still a very early stage.
We wanted to know what it is that keep him motivated.
CASHEWBERT: For me, there were two upsides. I love Japanese food in general. And in Japan there is this fermentation for Miso, for soy sauce and the koji that they use which is the moldy rice. And there is some websites where they have videos and tutorials for that. And I find that because of the way that they explain is they have their humidity, temperature, and everything. They explain in a very easy way. So for me it was like okay, that’s actually something I would love to bring for the cheese making here that turning the complex into something very simple to understand. On the other hand, if you look for the cheese recipes here that you have in Europe, because we have certain cheeses that is been made in for generations, you cannot experiment. Because the recipe needs this temperature, this amount of cultures, this amount of things… and in the end you have a very final product, which for vegan cheese you don’t have.
So for me it’s a mix of having the ingredients and having this recipes that is not the final but it will teach the people to move forward and create their own cheese. You don’t need to be in Germany or in France or anywhere to get the cultures, anywhere in Europe and then you can create your own cheese in your place. There’s no barrier but still in a way I think that people can learn and can prove and can experiment and can play. That’s the goal of CASHEWBERT. To play and to create your own stuff.
We wonder if vegan cheese could make it easier for people to flow to a more plant-based diet.
CASHEWBERT: 90% of my friends, they’re mostly vegetarian would say I can’t give up on cheese. I cannot be vegan because of the cheese. For me, before I even thought about cheese is like you can give up on a steak or a piece of meat or whatever, but then, if you like compare cheese and broccoli, if you say in your life you won’t eat broccoli anymore, people are like, oh okay, but if you don't want to eat pizza with mozzarella cheese on top of it people are like, whoaaaa, no way. So this… for me in the beginning it was what make people these two different reactions to food. And then I figured out it’s fat, hormones and flavor. And then, of course, fat you can satisfy, make it satisfying, hormones you may not get people addicted to it, which is a very good thing but this comes also with some pleasure that you probably wouldn’t achieve with vegan cheese.
On the other hand, what I’ve noticed is that many people say oh, I like the vegan cheese because it’s tasty and lighter. It doesn’t stay in your belly or anything and then I was like okay, there’s this shift people will learn because in vegan world you usually have a lot less variety of fermented food and flavors and that will be like a very aged cheese like parmesan or something.
So, I think that in the development of vegan cheese you bring two worlds together. One of the fresh flavor, the lighter flavor, the more plant-based flavor, and this complex fermented, fatty flavor, because an almond cheese that I make is usually really fatty. You can notice the fat in there. And that’s when you merge the two worlds and you bring people who are very reluctant to be, or to eat less animal products and eat more plant-based because they just think that oh it’s boring. And then, finding a balance in that, without, because you want achieve the same results so people also need to open their minds and I think slowly they are opening their minds. I think there are some people who are saying, oh if it’s not cheese I’m not trying it but there are actually a lot of people who say oh, I’m curious to try. And that curiosity I think is gonna change a lot.
We were lucky enough to taste CASHEWBERT’s creations. Of course we were curious about the reactions of other vegans but also non-vegans eating his cheese.
CASHEWBERT: I find that many are happy with it because they are not used to have this kind of a stronger flavor or this appearance; this usually more industrial way.
With non-vegans; I always have friends visiting me and I ask them if they wanna try and then they eat one piece, and another and then they’re, oh actually this is good, I can’t compare with cheese but this is actually good. So, there is this interesting reaction of vegans I think they tend to oh this looks like cheese and tastes a little bit like cheese, so it’s cheese. With non-vegans it’s something different but they like it. So I think that are the basic reactions.
Local and sustainable sourcing is a huge topic, not just for flowful. What exactly are CASHEWBERT’s main raw materials?
CASHEWBERT: I’m from Brazil we have cashews there. Using cashew nuts in Brazil I don’t feel bad at all. It’s from north of Brazil, I live south of Brazil it’s a long way but still it feels closer. When I’m here and I buy cashews from Vietnam or even from Brazil it’s such a long way that I feel a bit guilty for that even though the world is moving and it’s all conntected. It’s more about my feelings than sustainability perhaps but then I was trying to get almonds for example.
Yeah, so that was my biggest concern. So, almonds, I know that comes from Spain or from Italy. So for me, almonds are fine. Here in Germany they use a lot of lupin and that’s a great product but still there is that bitterness that is very hard to get on cheese. So I realized I cannot use lupin for that. Sun flower seeds are great, but the color is not appealing. So for me it’s very hard to get… almonds for me are the best to use but if you’re buying from America it’s not really helping but you can buy from local sources. But still, being in Germany, you’re importing anyway. So it’s very hard in a European context to think what is local. For somebody in Spain probably almond will be fine, in Germany probably another seed would be good experimenting with, but it’s hard to get one people focusing it.
Just adding to it, in Germany because lupin is so common, there are some big companies investing in making lupin milk and lupin based products and I think with going along, tagging along those companies and those developments we are able to get a boom soon but I think first, you have to find the best alternative in this case.
Unfortunately, almonds are kinda expensive. We asked Anderson if it wouldn’t be possible to look for something cheaper to make it more affordable. I mean it would be super annoying if the food industry would take over…
CASHEWBERT: I was talking to that friend, and she was asking 'Oh, why don’t you try hemp, hemp is cheap, my parents grow it and we can make a boom out of vegan cheese with hemp.' Because the price is too expensive. Even for me, to experiment I have to plan a little bit otherwise the price will be too expensive, even for my experiments. So hemp worked as a cheese but there is some flavor you want to avoid. Now, I want to try it with sun flower seeds. Within the nut and bean world we can make it cheaper. The only problem with industrial process is they cannot wait. And what they are doing the use fat, starches and flavors to make vegan cheese and that is satisfying some people but it gives that impression you need a lot of fake things.
CASHEWBERT is sharing his recipes and pretty much his whole knowledge online which seems to be quite uncommon.
CASHEWBERT: So for me, making vegan cakes, vegan everything was very challenging. On the other hand, I was seeing a lot of things developing in the US and lots of other countries I couldn’t make in Brazil. I felt very deprived because, I travelled to the US and was asking how do you do this, and they were like 'Oh, I don’t share my recipes' and I went to another restaurant and they were like 'Oh, it’s kind of a secret recipe'. For me, I have a computer programmer background, we have open source, we have linux, we have all this stuff. And then I noticed that that doesn’t apply to the vegan community that much. They, the cooking world, they have like kind of this is my recipe, that is my tradition, this is my secret and on the other hand, with computers it’s like share, share, share, do it, do it, do it. That was when I clicked. Actually I want to do open source vegan cheese.
That’s why CASHEWBERT, like all my recipes are creative commons. Some people were like, oh you should do a patent or do protect it or copyright the recipes, and I was like no, because people will stop or not do it and I want people to do it. Because the recipe not the final one! It will never be the final one, like it’s not thousands of years.
My idea for flavor it’s always there, like to make something with food but I never found my niche and when I realized that cheese is like this kind of hacking, like as a computer programmer it is hacking, like how to break the secret of it. I think that is when my computer programming experience comes in me together.
Besides breaking the secret of vegan cheesemaking, we wanted to know what Anderson wants to achieve with CASHEWBERT?
CASHEWBERT: I hope that with my contribution with CASHEWBERT is that the information is there, you don’t have to buy from mass. I’m happy too, if you’re helping us but I think that the community and the development of discussions is very important. And like what I was saying about sustainability, I hope to get something that is cheap enough so everybody can make for their family in a regular basis, without thinking 'Oh, I need to buy this almonds and they’re expensive and when I mess it up it’ll be a very expensive thing', so I think this is also a part of going from this vegan expensive world and slowly bringing it to DIY, it won’t be, well, maybe a little bit more expensive than buying a cheap product at the supermarket, but it’s a better quality and you can do it.
But if you look at all the blogs and facebook and stuff; isn’t there already a lot of knowledge sharing going on?
CASHEWBERT: One thing that I always get is sharing is common but the good quality information is not common. So sharing recipes that I created myself and it worked and I need 5 ingredients and it’s quick that is something that is becoming very popular in the vegan community. But I think with this idea of aquafaba, that’s where I also got a lot of information for my vegan cheese process. When people realized 'Oh, I can get the water of beans and make it like egg whites' that information is… there’s no way of not have this information spread and there’s no way of on that information. It’s like 'Oh, I’ve learned this, I pass it over and people do it and pass it over.' I think that, aquafaba was a really good example of how the community worked well and they developed many recipes of sort of an accident. On the other hand, chefs and cooks they usually tend to protect their recipes. The left vegans usually they are open to share. But I see then wherever they are starting a business, they want to protect. Oh, it’s my secret.
We are curious: there must be vegan cheese hot spots out there apart from online communities!?
CASHEWBERT: What I found is that of course Switzerland and France are two hotspots for cheese and for vegan cheese. I think one part is the economical, the second part is where the culture is stronger. On the other hand, there is some facebook groups. There are some information where people are experimenting but like I said they are sharing the basics. But a very very basic. So what I’m doing or what I see and experience is that people are only doing it in secrecy. Not in a bad way but because they don’t have a final product to show or final technique to show. And then slowly facebook groups are being the best way of doing that, of knowing and get to know people and to contact and ask questions. But there is no local group.
I see a lot happening in the US or Australia, I was very surprised about the Australian community regarding vegan cheese. They do have very interesting things there in Australia which I think because of the very high demand and the people are very creative there and trying to supply that demand. So I see that in Australia they have some vegan cheeses you wouldn’t get even in Europe. They might be completely different but it is like fermented soy cheese, that’s something you can get in Australia but not in Europe which is very interesting. Now you get but it’s also a different approach.
Watch out Europeans, CASHEWBERT started his tour around Europe to further spread his magic recipes and share his knowledge.
CASHEWBERT:It’s not enough to sell the cultures because people don’t know what to do with it. So I need to teach how to make the recipes. Cheese is something that is not ready in one day, one week but rather a month, two months until it gets ready. And then you noticed oh that’s wrong, that’s good, that’s right, so it took me these 2 years.
Now, the workshops are basically giving the fundamentals of vegan cheese but I still don’t have the final recipes because that’s something that I have an approach to it and, the same as cheese, it’s so varied how many types of cheese you can make and in vegan cheese there’s even another layer that you can make with almond or you can make with cashew, so it’s very complex. And with the workshop I thought I teach people the basics and let them find by themselves their preferences and their conditions. Here in Germany it is a bit colder, I can make some kind of cheese, in Italy it’s warmer, probably the cheeses must be different.
We experienced a huge interest in his workshop in Berlin and wonder where else people are interested in vegan cheese making.
CASHEWBERT: CASHEWBERT gives me a good view of where my customers are. Mostly UK, Germany and then there is some in Switzerland and Austria. So that was my guide. Right, and the cheese cultures also that is involved in those countries. For me, it was very new to learn how people eat cheese. That’s also part of all the process here that, like I said in the beginning, in the winter people actually do miss eating bread and cheese and that’s for me, in Brazil it’s too warm to eat cheese. So you don’t want to eat that kind of meal unless it’s a very cold winter which might be 5 degrees plus..
The tour is where my customers are and where I have connections and slowly I have people that are in Norway, Denmark, and a lot of in Holland are also asking for cheese. Now my next step would be probably where people are asking me to go.
Anderson seriously is pretty close to breaking the secret of vegan cheese making. What else is it he wishes for?
CASHEWBERT: The community needs to grow I think. But I think that facebook it’s sometimes sad and sometimes good, because it’s like all information is available but it’s all controlled by one company. But it is there. It’s out there. You can ask questions and the community is trying to help. I just hope that this idea of I found something, I hope that people will start sharing this information instead of hiding that information because in a globalized world it makes little sense.
Alright, let’s think about CASHEWBERT’s theory of change and sum this up:
To most of Europeans the biggest challenge to get vegan is to give up cheese. CASHEWBERT aims to build a platform to create the perfect vegan cheese that is delicious AND affordable. Doing so, he wants to support people to transition into a more plant-based diet.
At the moment, this is a grass root movement in an experimental stage; with only a few people that are not well connected yet. Spreading the message, making people curious about vegan cheese that is based on traditional cheese making techniques and, luckily, letting people try his newest creations is just the first step on Anderson’s agenda.
By encouraging people to start their own vegan cheese lab at home and share their findings online he wants to finally find the perfect vegan cheese recipe.
For us, CASHEWBERT already is a big pioneer for all vegans in Europe! Obrigado, Anderson for your effort and passion!
If you want to visit one of his workshops, get a cheese making starter kit or buy CASHEWBERT’s awesome cheese cultures visit www.cashewbert.com. Heads up, Berlin folks, we also heard that CASHEWBERT is planning to open a vegan cheese store in your neighborhood!
You can find all links in the show notes below and on our website www.flowful.org.
Music is by beautiful soul Andrew Healy.
Thanks for listening! Be flowful!