Cheese is a significant part of Italian food culture; the nation’s most famous dish, pizza, is known the world over for its stringy, melty mozzarella base. As well as mozzarella, a wide variety of cheeses (or formaggio, as the Italians say) hail from the country, including fontina (used in fondue) and parmigiano. Martino Beria – Italian chef and artisan baker – is aging cheese just like his ancestors would have, the difference is his recipe is completely vegan.
Using vegetable-based ingredients, Beria makes his vegan formaggio by aging it for around one month. This is a shorter time than other Italian dairy-based cheeses; fontina, for example, is aged for around three months or more. But like fontina – which has to be turned, brined, and salted every day – Beria’s artisanal vegan cheeses require a huge amount of dedication.
Writing about his process on his personal Instagram account, the chef explained, “It takes time and patience for such a precious preparation. Every day I take care of them, the optimal conditions for a spectacular result. The exciting thing is to witness the change that happens day after day.”
The result is something that looks less Italian and more French, according to Beria. Named “BERT Vegetable Cheese,” the finished product – available to order from his business The Home Bakery – has the same texture and taste of camembert, a soft, creamy cheese native to Normandy. Beria writes on The Home Bakery’s Instagram account, “I produce a delight of vegan gastronomy, BERT cheese: fermented and seasoned like real camembert, with soft paste and flowery rind! It looks like magic, but it’s true!”
So far, the response to his vegan cheese is positive; his last batch sold out completely and his social media followers are eager to try more. One even commented that Beria’s product was “better than camembert.”
In addition to cheese, Beria makes other sweet and savory baked treats, like fresh sourdough bread and vegan pandoro. Traditionally made with eggs and butter and consumed during the holiday season, pandoro is a traditional Italian sweet yeast bread baked in the shape of an eight-pointed star.
Despite their traditionally dairy and meat-heavy cuisine, more and more Italians are seeking out vegan options, as they become more aware of the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of plant-based foods. Between 2011 and 2016, the veggie population in the country nearly doubled, experiencing a growth of 94.4 percent. According to La Repubblica, there are more than 4 million meat-free and vegan citizens in the country.