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Women Who Inspire: Vegan Cheese Queen Miyoko Schinner

By age 50, Miyoko Schinner had already been a successful chef, restaurateur, author, and real estate agent. But there was one thing still on her bucket list: create a vegan cheese to rival real, rich French cheese.

“I always wanted that glass of wine with a delicious cheese platter — the kind of cheese served at the French restaurants of my youth,” she says. “I had created lots of great recipes and written cookbooks, but I had never mastered an unctuous and delicious vegan cheese.”

The road to vegan cheese mastery, however, had many twists and turns. Schinner became a vegan in her 20s, long before it hit the mainstream. She ran a successful vegan restaurant and a vegan food business, which she sold in 2003 without making much money.

After that, she became a successful real estate agent, but something was missing. “Things were going great, and it was very lucrative, but I felt like, ‘Is this it?’ I had to get back to what I really cared about, which was food and promoting a plant-based diet and providing value to the world.” 

Miyoko's vegan cheese plate

By that point, Schinner’s children were grown, she had been out of the food world for 10 years, and the vegan landscape had changed dramatically. It was now filled with bloggers, Instagram influencers, and young star chefs. “I thought, ‘Who’s going to care about me, a 50-year-old?’” 

But she put her fears aside and dove headlong into her vegan cheese-making dream. She experimented with cashews and walnuts, read cheese-making books, and went to cheese-making classes to learn the techniques and science behind making cheese. 

In 2012, Schinner pitched her publisher a cookbook called Artisan Vegan Cheese. The book changed everything. “The next thing I knew, I was being invited to speak and tour. Then I ran into the founder of Tofurkey, who actually used to be a competitor of mine. He tasted my cheese and said that if I ever started a vegan cheese company, he’d be my first investor.” 

Within six weeks they raised a million dollars, and have now raised $12 million. “We are growing like crazy,” she says. Miyoko’s Kitchen recently moved into a 30,000-square-foot facility in Petaluma, California, and has a staff of 74. 

“I feel younger than ever, and I turned 60 last year. I have no intention of retiring in five years. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can do what I am passionate about and be successful,” she says.

Miyoko Schinner portrait

Schinner says that many women go through life in a supporting role, never truly believing in themselves or their dreams. But at some point, you have to decide to believe in yourself — it’s now or never. “Having that chutzpah and courage to be an entrepreneur and live your dreams — you have to make that opportunity happen for yourself,” she says.

Her advice to other women who have dreams of starting their own business? “You have to develop discipline when you start a business.” That means setting goals and taking little steps every day to reach them. “You are accountable to yourself. Often times people dream and they don’t know how to take action. You just have to start, because if you don’t, [next year] you’ll be in the same place you were last year.” 

Schinner learned that failure is just part of the process; it’s what you do with that failure that counts. “Life is like a burpee. You’re going to fall down many times but you have to jump back. The more you do it, the stronger you’ll get — and you’ll become happier when you start living who you are.”

To learn more about Schinner and find out where to buy Miyoko’s vegan cheeses, go to miyokoskitchen.com.

Photos: Courtesy of Miyoko Schinner

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