Ian Martin and Aaron Bullock each had successful careers in the music and entertainment industries for decades. The Beverly Hills-based duo were at the height of their careers, but there was something else calling their name: cheese. Specifically, their goal was to offer a plant-based cheese alternative that actually tasted good; ideally, it would also be nutritious for the consumer.
“[When I first started experimenting with plant-based cheese], there weren’t a lot of options for something that tasted good and was good for you. Now we have a lot of options for non-dairy and plant-based foods,” says Martin. But none of them quite hit the mark. He began cooking vegan food for himself and his family and found that he wanted to serve even more people good food in its natural form.
“There are similarities. Music and TV make people happy and satisfied and so does good food. We have a desire for people to feel healthy, happy, and whole,” adds Bullock.
The two looked at what plant-based alternatives were coming out of Silicon Valley—an industry predominately led by white men—and believed they had something new to offer as two Black men with no tech background, who weren’t interested in making food in a chemistry lab.
“We found that when we make food only out of food, it tastes like food and acts like food. There’s no mystery to it. We looked out into the world and said, ‘how do they make cheese?’ Well, they take dairy milk and culture it and age it. It’s really simple,” says Bullock.
They wondered why no one was following the same process using plant-based milk. Martin, who took the reins as head chef, tried and failed and tried and failed to make it work. Eventually, Bullock encouraged Martin to join him for a cheese tasting at Wally’s, a gourmet wine & cheese bar in Beverly Hills. At this point, Martin was following a strict vegan diet but went along for the ride—“Ian will tell you he didn’t taste that many, but he did,” Bullock said, laughing.
They took note of which cheeses has crystallized, which ones were fatty, which ones had a punch of umami, which ones were smooth and creamy versus hard and salty. And then Martin got back to work. In less than a week, he nailed the recipe and the duo was ready to launch Misha's Kind Foods.
Today, they have eight products, which are priced between $8 and $10, and are available at Whole Foods Market and Erewhon Market throughout California and select natural foods stores in Hawaii and Arizona: Smoked Cheddar, Black Truffle, Sari, French Connection, Lox, Joi, Seven Point Five, and Ricotta. All of their cheeses are made with a blend of almonds and cashews, purified water, shallots, vegan cultures, and salt, plus an assortment of other spices, herbs, citrus juices, and sometimes a little splash of booze.
And they’re good. Make a nice cheese and charcuterie board with one of these spreads on the side, or go beyond basics by mixing Black Truffle cheese into tagliatelle or pappardelle for a creamy, umami-packed pasta dish or incorporating Joi (an herby, jalapeno-based cheese) into the filling for vegan stuffed peppers.
After spending years in studios, Martin and Bullock have finally found their home in the kitchen.
Have you tried any plant-based cheeses that you love? Let us know your favorite brands, and keep an eye out for Misha’s in Whole Foods Market and Erewhon Market.
See what other Food52 readers are saying.