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Kashew Cheese is a startup on a mission to create a dairy-free cheese market in Vietnam. The young company produces healthy, plant-based artisan cheeses made with local ingredients, notably cashews, which are fresh and abundant in the country. Founded by vegan Lê Na when she realised that foreign vegan cheese brands were buying up huge quantities of Vietnamese cashews, Kashew Cheese not only hopes to encourage healthier and more sustainable dietary habits in Vietnam, they are also on a mission boost local economies and empower local communities with homegrown production.
Kashew Cheese offers a variety of dairy-free artisan cheese products, from fermented aged cheeses to camembert, mozzarella and cream cheese. Instead of using any animal-derived ingredients such as cow’s or goat’s milk, the plant-based cheese maker only produces cheeses using cashews. They also run a café called Kashew Deli, where sandwiches, cheese boards and coffees are all made with plant-based ingredients – with a focus on their brand’s tree nut star, the humble cashew.
Lê Na, founder of Kashew Cheese, was inspired to start the company when she moved to Saigon and developed an interest in nutrition and the environmental footprint of food and agriculture. After adopting a vegan lifestyle and coming across overseas manufactured plant-based cheeses containing Vietnamese nuts, Lê Na wanted to master her own cheese-production in her home country, using locally produced ingredients.
All of the company’s gourmet cheeses are all handcrafted in Vietnam with Vietamese ingredients – from the cashews to the very spices, such as chili, turmeric and pepper, which are used to infuse different flavours.
In conversation with Vietcetera, Lê Na explained: “I learned that international vegan cheese producers were buying cashews from Vietnam, but the industry didn’t exist in Vietnam. Since cashews are grown here, Vietnamese cashew products should be the best.”
In addition to using locally sourced ingredients to benefit the community, Kashew Cheese’s mission is to also reconnect with the rich tradition of vegan and vegetarian food embedded in Vietnamese food culture. Vietnamese cuisine, known for its sharp and strong flavours, often features fermented ingredients like fermented tofu, beans and vegetables. The process of making vegan cheese follows similar practices – fermenting cashews and drawing new flavours through spice and herb mixes. Vietnam is also home to a large Buddhist population who often eat vegan food.
“In that sense, [vegan cheese] is very creative and can be easily adapted to local culture. We once created a Kashew Banh Mi and it tasted great. We think the plant-based movement is a logical choice for anyone in Vietnam and around the world…We want to make something that is good for our diet, but doesn’t sacrifice on flavour,” said Lê Na.
Other plant-based cheeses are springing up across the Asian region to meet the growing demand for animal-free dairy products. Singapore-based KROODI, for instance, is among the startups producing artisanal cheeses using natural plant ingredients like sprouted cashews. Founded by Claudia Cani in 2017, the handcrafted cheeses by KROODI are unprocessed, gluten-free and contain no refined sugars.
Kashew Deli Saigon: 14 Trần Ngọc Diện, Thảo Điền, Quận 2, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam; +84 396 976 134.
All images courtesy of Kashew Cheese.