Photo provided by Alex Koons
Forthcoming in the May 2023 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about vegan cheeses: how to add them to the menu, cook with them, charge more for them (or not), and market them to customers. In the process, we caught up with a number of experts in the vegan world who shared their expert tips for adding vegan options in the pizzeria. Here are their thoughts.
Meredith Marin, CEO and consultant, Vegan Hospitality, West Palm Beach, FL
Vegan options should mirror your best-selling traditional dishes, especially if vegan options are new to your establishment or you are creating your first vegan menu. Keep your signature flavors the same, while simply swapping out meat and cheeses for plant-based versions.
If you have hidden animal products in your standard ingredients, consider making them plant-based by default so that you do not need to do double duty in your kitchen, making both traditional and vegan versions of menu items. For example, if your marinara sauce is made with chicken broth, swap to a no-chicken vegan base, which will have the same flavor but will suit vegans and vegetarians. If your minestrone soup uses animal-based broth, same idea—swap to a vegan broth so that more customers can purchase this menu item. Make sure that your pizza dough does not include eggs and your breads do not use an egg wash if you would like your menu to be accessible to the maximum amount of customers.
Do your market research. Check out the pizza places near you to see if they have vegan options, what they serve, how well they are doing—and then think about how you could make your options even better as you develop new recipes. Do something to differentiate your new menu from the vegan menus that already exist. In fact, a simple welcoming statement on your menu or on a chalkboard, such as “We are proud to offer vegan options!” can go a long way in gaining customers and positive online reviews.
Many companies are also making pledges and plans to reduce or phase out cow-based products in favor of more planet-friendly options in order to meet their sustainability goals. Don’t forget to promote on your website and social media that you have vegan options, label your menu properly, create a separate vegan menu for ease in ordering, and avoid service mistakes to prevent liability issues.
For pizzas, use pourable cheeses (I like homemade or Miyoko’s brand), shredded cheeses (like Daiya or Violife), or a mixture of the two. These cheeses are also great as swaps for an eggplant Parm, chik'n marinara, and more. If you use egg batter, I recommend Just Egg (vegan egg) or simply removing the egg from your recipe. Violife or Follow Your Heart Parmesan are amazing for salads. Consider a vegan version of your Caesar salad. Remember that vegans and dairy-free customers would love to order an app, entree and dessert at your restaurant, especially if they are dining in-house with non-vegan friends and family. No one wants to watch their friends eat dessert and be stuck with a fruit cup or an empty plate!
When we work with our restaurant clients, we make sure to train both back-of-house and front-of-house staff so that every employee understands the proper protocol for handling vegan and allergy-friendly foods and can speak confidently to customers about the new options.
Freya Drake, pastry chef and vegan baking expert, Kitchen Ambition
Vegan cheeses aren’t plasticky in taste and texture like they used to be. They melt better, have a creamier texture, and most of them taste good. For making pizzas, Violife is a great brand of shredded vegan cheese that melts well, has good flavor, and has a non-scary list of ingredients. Daiya is a close second, and is usually a tiny bit cheaper. Miyoko’s also offers flavor-rich vegan cheeses that have been fermented like real cheese. Their vegan mozzarella comes in a liquid form and cooks up great on pizza.
Pizzerias that want to keep a vegan pie or two on the menu every day should also consider making their own vegan cheese. A housemade cashew cheese involves soaking cashews overnight, then draining them the following day. They’ll usually be combined with spices, something acidic like lemon juice, and umami-heavy ingredients like nutritional yeast or miso to make a spreadable vegan cheese.
Tenny Minassian, vegan lifestyle coach and business consultant, Vegan Coach Tenny, Los Angeles, CA
Adding vegan cheese is a great move for businesses, because you can attract many new customers, like those eating plant-based, people with certain food allergies/intolerances, and even people observing religious practices like Lent. It is also great for groups trying to go out to eat together, because people have different dietary preferences, and they are more likely to choose your business if you provide more options. Not upcharging is a good strategy to attract these types of customers so they can choose your business over others that may be charging more.
For vegan cheeses, I really love the Miyoko’s brand of liquid mozzarella, but the Daiya Cutting Board shreds are also good. You can also work with local vegan cheese vendors if they’re available. Some vegan cheeses melt better than others—if you’re using it on other menu items, I suggest using a lid and a bit of water to create some steam to help melt the cheese. This trick works great for burgers and sandwiches, loaded fries, or appetizers!
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