"I wanted to start this group because all of the wine lovers' groups I found in the Seattle area were analogous to meat-and-cheese lovers' groups," a frustrated Seattle vegan complains on the Vegan Winos' home page.
While it's unclear whether the Vegan Winos ever got off the ground--the organizer didn't return messages seeking comment--there are plenty of local vegans who want to have their wine and eat cheese too. But once eaters who have forsworn all animal products locate a wine consistent with their dietary principles, they still have to find a cheese worth pairing with it.
"A lot of vegan cheeses are made to put on pizza," vegan Laviyah Israel of Chicago says. "They're not for eating raw."
Vegan groceries tend to stock cheese sauces, spreads, and shreds, but very few cheeses intended to be sliced and served with crackers. The paucity of artisan-cheese alternatives intended to be enjoyed with a glass of merlot instead of sprinkled on a burrito inspired Israel to start marketing her vegan pepper jacks and smoked goudas.
"My husband wanted a cheese he didn't have to manipulate," explains Israel, who ships her Ste Martaen cheese across the country. "He wanted something that promoted the simplicity of wine, cheese, and a plate of crackers."
According to Israel, many vegan cheeses have "a waxy flavor, or they're too wet." No amount of cabernet can make those cheeses more palatable, she says.
Israel makes her cheeses from cashews, using a recipe that's widely available on the Internet. Her vegan cheese made her a popular potluck guest long before she and her husband Nahum founded Ste Martaen in 2009.
"People were like, 'Can you bring the cheese?'", Israel recalls.
While Israel produces Colby, Muenster, and olive cheeses, she reports the pepper jack and gouda are most compatible with wine. She served the pepper jack with rieslings or sauvignon blancs, and pairs the gouda with zinfandel.
The Israels are now working on extending the shelf life of their cheeses through vacuum-sealing. Israel is looking forward to slowing down her current weekly shipping schedule, which allows wine drinkers to get their vegan cheese while it's fresh.
"We're pretty busy," Israel says. "We're just trying to keep up."