I so never thought I would give up cheese.
I mean, I had tried vegan cheese a few times in college and it made me want to barf and cry at the same time. Why even try to mimic something so good, my then dairy-eating heart implored. But that was a long time ago, and let me tell you – vegan cheese has changed.
As my boyfriend so eloquently put it when I complained about missing goat cheese one day, “You’re never really going to be able to replicate anything that comes out of an animal’s tits.”
True. He’s so smart, my man.
However, it’s worth delving into the magical word of vegan cheese and seeing what brands agree most with your taste preferences and cooking methods. For you vegan veterans, this might be a refresher course, but newbies listen up. Here are the deets on vegan cheese:
Convenience. Sometimes I forget that I’m vegan. Mostly because it’s so easy to go into just about any store nowadays and buy stuff that looks and tastes like cheese. Hell, now we can even get shreds, blocks, loafs and cream cheese, vegan style. If you’re new at the vegan thing, the sheer convenience of vegan cheese is spectacular. Use it in casseroles, tacos, scrambles, etc. For me, sometimes food just feels naked with out it. Like something is missing. It’s a great transition food because it helps you veganize some of the most basic dishes you probably had before going vegan.
Texture. I’m not going to lie about this – you’re going to have to get over the weird texture of some vegan cheeses. Some are a little more rubbery, watery or gritty than “what comes out of a cow’s tits.” But I’ve found that this is not-so-important next to how it tastes and smells to you. The melt-factor is another thing to consider here. Some vegan cheeses just won’t “ooze” and melt in the oven, while others will kinda-sorta get soft and spread out over a pizza or whatever. Bottom line? Don’t expect uber-gooey goodness. Settle for sorta gooey and like, not eating another mammal’s mucousy by-products.
Taste. So many people ask me what the best vegan cheese is on the market. But here’s the secret: it totally depends on your taste buds. A brand that I like might taste like glue to you, and vice versa. For instance, I’ll put Daiya in casseroles but don’t like it when I make tofu scrambles. I use Follow Your Heart in scrambles, but it doesn’t “stick” well in quesadillas. The best advice I have is to try different brands of vegan cheese until you find a few you like. Let the fun begin!
Nutrition. So here’s the dirty secret on many vegan cheeses: they’re not vegan! But yes, it’s true. Why? A lot of soy cheeses contain casein (a milk protein), whey and rennet. Vegan cheeses will also come under attack by people who say they’re full of oil. This can also be true. Truth is, vegan cheeses are still processed foods. So limit how much you eat, just like any other processed stuff.
Brands. So tell me what to buy, you’re thinking. OK. Here are some recommendations for vegan cheese based on varying cooking needs:
- For melty-ness: Daiya. Daiya comes in shreds and blocks, and it’s fantastically melty (at least compared to other cheeses). This is my staple for pizzas. (More on Daiya in my Top Ten Favorite Vegan Food Products.) $4 at Whole Foods
- For scrambles, casseroles and other one-pot dishes: Follow Your Heart. Comes in blocks, easy to shred, and mimics the flavor better than most. Melts fairly well. I like this brand because the flavor is less intense than Daiya, so it won’t overpower a dish. $3-4 at Whole Foods
- For sandwiches: Vegan Cheese Singles, Galaxy Foods. Slices! Yay! Put them on your sandwich. These remind me of Kraft American cheese slices. So yes, they taste a little processed, but it’s nice when you’re really craving that extra layer in a veggie sandwich or something. Also makes for great grilled cheese! $3-4 at Whole Foods
- For a dinner party: Dr. Cow. So you’re having your friends over but can’t eat the fancy cheese you bought their lame asses? Ya gotta try Dr. Cow. It’s kind of a splurge but this is the kind of stuff you can eat by the chunk. It’s made of nuts and there are like, a bazillion flavors. Just try some. Please. $10-15 at veganessentials.com
- On salads: Sunergia Soyfoods Soy Feta. Soy feta is awesome. It’s not the same thing as my beloved goat cheese, but it works. Give it a shot if it will help you eat your veggies. $4 at various retailers
- Instead of Parmesan: Rawmesan. Don’t cry cause you can’t have your Parmesan. Apparently there is a God. And he is the guy who invented this vegan Parmesan. This stuff is great on pasta, salads, or sprinkled on soups. $8 for a huge jar on Amazon
You can also make your own cheese “sauce” by blending up raw cashews with some nutritional yeast, soy milk and spices. It tastes better than it sounds.
Ok, so now that you’re all excited about vegan cheese, go buy some! If you live in the sticks, you can get most at online vegan food stores . While you’re at it, make me a pizza!! Also, stay tuned for a review on some other vegan cheese products I just got (spicy nacho cheese sauce, mac n’ cheese in a box (!), and another brand of cheddar I haven’t tried yet.
Image via The Hungry Dudes