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1987: “New Soy Cheese Best Yet to Hit Market”

While today all the cheese alternatives are vegan, in the ‘80s the first ones contained casein, a milk protein. That includes my TofuRella in 1986. Although the FDA nevertheless allowed us to call it “nondairy,” we didn’t. Using casein was a critical early step in developing the cheese alternative segment, as it made for a much more realistic cheese-like food and was cholesterol- and saturated fat-free, which consumers preferred. But the segment was still too small and young to go totally vegan; consumers were fine with the transitional product as it was, but I knew it was only a matter of time before their sophistication grew and they would demand a vegan product.

Cheese (and ice cream, hence LeTofu) is the hardest for people to give up when changing their diets. While they would accept a product with casein which mimicked real cheese but had no cholesterol or lactose, if it didn’t perform like cheese (melt, stretch, shred) we would be sunk. Ingredient technology hadn’t caught up yet with this application. Plus we were growing 950% in 5 years starting in 1987, so adding something the market wasn’t ready for while also cannibalizing our big-movers was not high on my list.

FREE, below, was too difficult to make commercially, coupled with shelf-life issues (we were used to getting 9 months on Tofu-Rella, FREE was a few weeks). Plus Kraft introduced a fat-free dairy cheese a few years later, that would not have gone well for us.

We finally introduced 100% non-dairy VeganRella in 1994, hard and cream cheese versions, made with organic fair-trade Brazil Nuts. It was the first. Unfortunately I discovered fair-trade organic Brazil Nuts before hempseed, or I would have used that instead. Richard Rose


New Soy Cheese Best Yet to Hit Market

Whole Life Whole Foods In The News, September/October 1987, by Marc Medoff.

Caption: Free, a new casein-free soy cheese manufactured by Sharon’s Finest is the newest, and the best of its kind we’ve tasted to date. It’s about as close to real cheese as you’re ever going to get without the cow.

Soy cheese lovers should be on the lookout for a new non-dairy cheese called FREE that’s due to hit New York health food stores within the next couple of months. The product, manufactured by Sharon’s Finest, a division of Rose International of Petaluma, California is the latest, and perhaps best of a new wave of soy products that seek to replicate the taste, look and melting action of real cheese. While a number of soy cheese manufacturers have developed soy cheese analogs that contain casein (a milk protein), only a few have come up with recipes that are totally animal-product-free. But the manufacturers of FREE have not only developed a process to make their product without using casein, they’ve managed to create a soy cheese that is about as close to real dairy cheese as we’ve seen to date. Pre-production samples taste-tested by Whole Life found the product to have the taste, feel, and most importantly the melting action of a real dairy cheese (stretchy and soft like jack cheese).

We tried it plain, and heated, and both times we were delighted with FREE’s mouth-feel, versatility and after-taste (no soy or “off” taste). Indeed, its similarity to real cheese is startling. Exactly how FREE is made is still a trade secret, according to company president Richard Rose, because there is a U.S. patent pending on the product’s formulation and process. But in an exclusive interview with Whole Life, Rose said that FREE was made with a process similar to tofu manufacturing, and that its cheese-like qualities resulted from the interaction of ingredients, rather than any one in particular. Interestingly enough Rose told us FREE would be marketed as tofu that is like cheese, rather than a soy cheese per say. Which isn’t a bad idea, considering that FREE is made of over 70% organic tofu, far more than any other soy cheese on the market.

FREE’s all-natural (and parve-kosher) ingredient list reads: organic tofu, soy oil, tapioca, irish moss, nutritional yeast, agar-agar, guar gum, sea salt, miso, carob bean gum, kuzu, aloe vera, lecithin, citric acid. In addition to the traditional no-cholesterol, high protein benefits of regular tofu, FREE also contains healthy amounts of fiber and Vitamin B-12 (usually only found in animal foods). Further, the product contains no hydrogenated oil, as many soy cheeses do, and therefore is some-what softer when cold.

FREE will be available nationally in consumer sizes and bulk in Jalapeno Jack, Garlic Jack, Cheddar and Spice labels, and is expected to sell for about $2.85/8 oz. package. It has a six month shelf life and can be frozen for longer periods. Besides FREE, Sharon’s Finest markets other natural food products including Cottage Salad, Curry Salad and dry instant soft-serve mixes. Rose International is a food product development and marketing consulting firm which specializes in soyfoods. For more information contact: Sharon’s Finest, P.O. Box 2687, Petaluma, California 94953.

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