A Vegan Cheese Was Up For A Good Food Award – But Was Mysteriously Disqualified

A plant-based blue cheese was set to beat its dairy competitors, until it was removed from the running...


(updated )

3 Minutes Read

Climax Foods blue cheese The almost-award-winning vegan blue cheese - Media Credit: Climax Foods

A plant-based blue cheese that was set to win a Good Food Award has been disqualified at the last minute after a “complaint” about one of its ingredients.

Read more: Could The ‘Third Wave’ Of Vegan Cheese Move Flexitarians Off Dairy?

As reported by Washington Post, Climax Foods’ blue cheese was the first vegan cheese to be selected as a finalist in the five years since plant-based has been allowed to compete against dairy cheese. A confidential letter sent to the company in January by the Good Food Foundation (GFF), which oversees the awards, said that the blue cheese would be crowned the winner. But one week before the ceremony, GFF dropped Climax from the list of finalists.

The reason GFF gave is that someone raised concerns the cheese contained kokum butter. Though widely used in food and cosmetics, kokum butter might not meet the “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It was also noted that the cheese didn’t meet the award’s requirements of being “retail ready,” as it was approved for use in foodservice.

But Oliver Zahn, CEO of Climax Foods, which produced the cheese, claims that the dairy industry was behind the “desperate effort” to keep plant-based cheese from consumers. Zahn accused GFF of adding in the GRAS rule after pressure from dairy companies.

“Not a new rule”

Climax Foods vegan cheeseboard
Climax Foods Climax also makes brie, feta, and “goat” cheese from plants

The rule regarding GRAS certification was reportedly not made explicit at the time that companies submitted their products to the awards. The wording only appeared later, after Climax had already been chosen as the winner of the cheese category. 

GFF Executive Director Sarah Weiner denied Zahn’s accusations of bowing to dairy industry pressure. In an email to the Washington Post, she said that new language about GRAS-certified ingredients on the website was “a clarification of our principles and standards … rather than a new rule.”

Read more: The Vegan Cheese ‘Health Warning’ – Is There Really Cause For Concern?

Disgruntled dairy cheesemakers 

Climax’s success in the cheese category certainly ruffled feathers among dairy cheesemakers. 

“One could make the argument that this is like a fraudulent cheese,” said one cheesemaker and fellow GFA entrant. “As a cheesemaker, it’s a fraud. It looks like a cheese. It might taste like a cheese. But it’s not. It’s not connected to our historical understanding of what cheeses are.”

Read more: Company Makes ‘Healthy And Nutritious’ Vegan Cheese Made From Peas

Climax, like many artisanal plant-based cheesemakers, use similar methods to those used by dairy cheesemakers. Climax’s blue cheese is cultured and aged; where it really diverges – apart from the lack of cows – is that it uses “machine learning frameworks” to “optimize” its plant-based ingredients.

“As Gandhi said: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!” said Zahn on LinkedIn. “The future of food, my friends, will be better in every way…”

Become A Plant Based Chef with our 1000+ recipes! 🥦

We know it can be hard to keep cooking up tasty, exciting meals. So we thought of them for you! Browse our selection of vegan recipes below.

© 2024 Plant Based News is a mission-led impact media platform focused on elevating the plant-based diet and its benefit to human health, the planet, and animals. | Plant Based News Ltd, PO Box 71173, London, SE20 9DQ, United Kingdom.