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January 14, 2013

Rau Om

by Anne Paddock

Years ago when we were living in Spain, my daughter would often order a cheese platter for dessert and devour the 4 or 5 piece selection, much to my surprise as most kids order cake or ice cream for dessert. She just happened to develop a deep love of cheese (especially goat) at a young age and was an adventurous eater. Now that she is a vegan, life has changed as has her diet.

By definition, a vegan is a person who avoids using or consuming animal products so cheese is no longer on the menu.  In its place is a product called Tofu Misozuke – an all natural miso-cured tofu that has been aged for two months. Rich, creamy and slightly tangy, Tofu Misozuke is the centuries old Japanese answer to cheese and a cheese-lovin vegan’s choice when a craving for the forbidden fruit beckons. But, Tofu Misozuke is also a delicious alternative to cheese that non-vegans should consider trying.

DSC_0889Tofu Misozuke is made by Rau Om, a company in Belmont, California (just south of San Francisco) dedicated to “making Vietnamese food like you’ve always/never had.” The name of the company comes from an aromatic plant found in flooded rice fields and translates in English to mean “rice paddy herb.” Grown only in Southeast Asia, this herb nevertheless plays a prominent role in Vietnamese cooking and in the founders (Oanh Nguyen and Dang Vu) diet.  With its distinctive floral flavor and versatility, rau om projects the company’s philosophy to bring deliciously flavored food products that can be used in a variety of ways to the public.

Tofu Misozuke is one of those products that came about when Oanh and Dang were visiting Japan. Unable to find Tofu Misozuke in the San Francisco area, Oanh and Dang located an 18th century recipe, had it translated, and then spent months perfecting their interpretation. The result is not only the vegan’s answer to cheese, but also the omnivore’s answer to enjoying a low-fat (0.5 mg per half ounce serving or 2.5 mg in the  2.5 ounce block) and low-calorie (20 calories) delicious spread that really tastes like a sinfully delicious cheese.

Tofu Misozuke is made from four ingredients:  tofu, miso, sugar and sake.  Originally made in Japan, Tofu Misozuke is tofu (primarily soybeans and water) that has been cured with miso (water, soybeans, rice, salt) for a period of time (2 months to 2 years) which allows the tofu to  acquire the texture of a soft creamy cheese and the flavor of an aged cheese. The longer the tofu is cured, the stronger the flavor is. Rau Om’s version is aged for two months, ensuring the “cheese” is not too strong. In fact, the taste is like a mild goat cheese with the texture of a pate. Delicious on crackers or crunchy cucumber slices, topped with walnuts, or with fresh, dried fruits or preserves, Tofu Misozuke is a perfect snack or hors d’oeuvre.

Tofu Misozuke comes in two flavors:  Original which has been aged in paper or Kombu which has been aged in seaweed. Both varieties come in 2.5 ounce blocks  that are wrapped and sealed in a bamboo canoe (serving platter). Each 2.5 ounce block is $7 – $7.50 or the large block (5 ounces) for $13-$14 which comes wrapped but does not contain the bamboo canoe. I’m preferential to the canoe because the small block of Tofu Misozuke fits perfectly in the carved section and looks so pretty on a serving table.

The Tofu Misozuke is perishable so shipments are packed with ice packs and sent out on Mondays via priority mail. I ordered three 2.5 ounce canoes and the shipping cross country was about $10 and I received it the next day. The Tofu Mizozuke had an expiration date nearly two months into the future but the blocks can also be frozen until ready to use. Once opened, the blocks can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator but ours never last more than a day or two.

Rau Om
519 Marine View, Unit F
Belmont, California 94002

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