The situation has definitely improved over the past 12 years but we're still not there yet.
I don't expect vegan cheese to taste identical to dairy cheese, but I do expect it to exhibit the following qualities:
All that I've tried so far have failed at one or more of the above.
Here's the low down on vegan cheese that's currently on the market, in order of availability:
Original style has been around forever but is barely edible and doesn't melt. It's widely available (inc supermarkets) and frankly I don't understand why it still exists.
The super melting variety made a lot of people very excited when it was launched (2004?), because not only did it taste vaguely like cheese, but it melted too. It didn't go stretchy/stringy and it tastes nasty raw, but vaguely passable cheese on toast was possible for the first time.
For reasons unknown they stopped selling blocks of the cheddar (selling only slices instead, which cost twice as much by weight), but have in the past year or two bought out a soy free cheddar in block form.
I regularly buy the mozerella and soy free cheddar. Not so fussed on the Edam style or any of the new ones they launched last Christmas. @cherrivalentine likes the blue one.
A few years ago they released feta which tasted OK - I guess they never found a chain to carry it though as it disappeared as quickly as it came.
Mozerella is the default variety that we use when we need something that'll melt. We eat pizza at least once a week and typically use half a block per pizza. It can be crumbled but is better grated.
I seem to remember trying scheese years ago, and not liking it at all. I don't know whether it changed or my taste buds did, but when I tried it again in 2008 I actually quite liked it.
I regularly buy their strong and smoked cheddar varieties and it is passable on crackers / eaten straight from the fridge. The texture's not perfect, but it's decent enough.
It doesn't melt though - if you put it on pizza it just stays whole. It will melt eventually in boiling soy milk, but its taste gets lost too easily (i.e. you need a whole block to make cheese sauce).
In the past month or two they've started producing 2 meltable versions for Tesco, who sell it under their Free From range:
The mild is too bland for my liking but the cheddar pretty good. It doesn't melt as well as Redwoods, nor does it go stretchy, but it is edible unmelted. It grates well and I've taken to mixing it with Redwoods mozerella for use on pizza:
The cream cheeses they sell are pretty good (I've been working on a carbonara recipe using the Tesco cheddar spread), but tofutti are better.
Their cream cheese has always been pretty good - it's the one to use if you ever want to make an unbaked cheesecake. There are several varieties that we eat ocassionally on crackers - garlic and olive are my favourites:
The sour cream is practically perfect - works very well with mexican food.
Their other cheese (slices, grated) have always sucked. Period. (we call it feet cheese). It kind of melts but certainly doesn't go stretchy.
It transpired a few years ago that the sugar they use in america isn't definitely vegan, but that the stuff sold in the UK is made in the EU and OK.
When i turned vegan in '00 there was no passable margerine available. Hard to believe i know, but i even tried stuff that was grainy! Vegan books of old suggest using tahini as margarine, which obviously isn't going to work.
Given how amazing Pure spread is, vegans got pretty excited when they started to promise cheese varieties - the hunt was on.
Eventually when they hit mass market we found how gross they are - both the slices and cream cheese are inedible. Make a cheesecake with it and you'll wish you didn't. It's an example of how what's in supermarkets isn't nessecarily the best you can get.
On a side note: they were originally promising Dairylea style cheese triangles, but they never materialized.
Gets a special mention here. Mostly because some nutjobs (mostly Americans who affectionately call it nooch) believe that nutritional yeast is like dried grated cheese. It's not. It really isn't.
Cheese is yeasty and so is nutritional yeast - that's where the similarity ends.
It is useful for making white sauces taste slightly cheeselike - @cherrivalentine makes insanely good macaroni cheese with it.
We're now getting into the realm of hard to find. Vegusto sell their wares online, at festivals and previously (where i bought one of each) at Vx in London.
I can't remember how much they cost, but they weren't cheap.
Melty was creamy and did melt. It was OK, but not worth the effort in sourcing. It didn't go stretchy when melted but we did finish the whole pack....
Snack confused the hell out of us. I assumed that Vx had mistreated it in some way and that it wasn't in fact as gross as it was when we tried it. It improves when cooked (as per the picture), but wasn't worth the effort for us to finish the whole pack before it went mouldy at the back of the fridge.
Dezent was weird. The taste was unpleasant (almost spicy - what you'd expect human breastmilk cheese to taste like) but the texture was as close to dairy cheddar that I've ever tried. It's difficult to explain how or why, but both of us were a little creeped out by how good it was.
Still, it wasn't good enough for us to eat the while pack - like the snack variety it went mouldy in the fridge.
Vegourmet is what Vx started selling when they claimed that Vegusto got too expensive.
The flavours are a little odd and it's just nasty eaten 'raw', but it does melt and tastes reasonably good on pizza.
It doesn't stretch though and it isn't worth sourcing.
We bought one of each variety (Cheddar and Mozerella) recently from Veganstore, because it's the only brand currently available in the UK that claims to stretch when melted.
OK, it does, but not in a good way. If you melt it at 260 degrees then it does kind of go stretchy, but more in a snot way than a dairy mozerella way. I don't know the name of the stuff it reminded us of in texture when melted, but it's a type of flubber/slime/gunge that was sold in toy stores in the 80s.
We usually cook pizza at 200 degrees (fan), at which it goes dried out on the outside and melted in the middle. It doesn't taste very nice and honestly I can't imagine ever buying it again.
Incidentally, the wrapper recommends you use 10-14oz per pizza, which at veganstore proces costs £4.45 to £6.23 (exc P&P) !!!
A couple of years ago there was a sudden influx of evangelical posts from the US about Daiya, which on all accounts was the holy grail of fake cheese. Not only does it melt, but stretches too!
Daiya made a lot of vegans in Europe very sad, because no one was importing it and Daiya themselves don't seem to have any interest in selling it over here. The reports of its amazingness continued to appear online, but we weren't getting any.
I did consider paying a high sum of money to import some myself, but never got round to it.
Therefore, I was more than excited to buy 7 packs in the states last year and bring them back to the UK with me.
Without wanting to sound too negative: Daiya is fucking horrible.
Yes, it does melt and yes, it does stretch. It only stretches about 5mm however - it doesn't create 20cm long strands when you cut a slice of pizza with it on. It also goes really oily - yuck!
Taste wise - gross. It's a reasonable attempt at creating highly processed cheese slices - i.e. not something any European would ever consider eating.
I persevered with it over several months, but the only thing i found it worked better than Cheezly with was enchiladas:
Americans are lovely people (some of them anyway). I don't think they're all liers - I think some genuinely think this stuff tastes good. If this is the case however then it does explain why there are quite so many US recipes online that just frankly don't work, which when English people try them they feel like they've just wasted a load of ingredients / x hours of their life they'll never get back.
We're not there yet. There are different options that work in different circumstances, but no one 'cheese' that ticks all boxes.
I'm quite sure it's possible, but it'll probably involve someone who understands chemistry and can replicate the milk proteins required - rather than an amateur cook. We'll get there in the end.
In the meantime, if you're a vegetarian who's considered veganism but can't give up cheese; without wanting to beat about the bush, get a fucking grip. Cheese is not addictive. Fat and salt taste good, but there's more to life, surely?