Vegan "Cheese" Roundup

Cheese: yeasty, salty fat; solid at room temperature that melts when heated. You'd have thought the perfect vegan version would have been created by now, but you'd be wrong.

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:

  • Salty, yeasty, creamy (fatty) - in a balance that makes you want to eat the whole block
  • Solid at room temperature, smooth, easy to cut, grateable, edible
  • Melted with heat, smooth, stretchy, still edible

    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:

    Redwoods

    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.



    Scheese

    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.



    Tofutti

    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.

    Pure

    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.

    Nutritional Yeast

    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.

    Vegusto

    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

    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.




    Teese

    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.

    It doesn't.

    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) !!!

    Daiya

    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:

    In all other cases it ruined rather than improved the taste.

    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.

    Conclusion

    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?

  • 16 comments:

    1. Blueberries said...:

      Great round-up! I'm pretty easy to please, so I've never had a vegan cheese that I've hated, but I agree that some are better than others. I'm a Cheezly girl, simply because its the cheapest vegan cheese I can get and it's great on pizza.

    1. vegankid.net said...:

      Fantastic post! I really enjoyed reading it! I didn't realise Sheese had started producing Sheese for Tesco's Free From Range - How do the prices compare? Do Tesco offer it any cheaper?

      I will certainly be looking out for it nonetheless!

      And thank you for the reassurance that we're not missing out with Teese or Daiya. Like you I have contemplated paying an extortionate price for postage but I have always worried about it being a complete waste of money - now I know! :)

      ...Although, I'm still quite keen to try it myself, should I be visiting the USA anytime soon.I'm sure, however, like the five I have tried, I will agree with you!

      Matt :)

    1. Sarah said...:

      Such a great and much needed post!!! Thanks! I've never gotten on with scheese, but I actually liked daiya when we were in the US.

      However, aside from the round up of cheeses, my fave part of this post has to be your conclusion... "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." Love it. Damn straight.

    1. Anonymous said...:

      I have never found a cheese I eat a whole block of before it goes mouldy (maybe its down to the sort of things I cook and the fact I do so infrequently) but I really like the walnut Vegusto which is really nice sliced at room temperature. I have been vegan for around 20 years so admitedly don't reliably recall what dairy cheese tastes like but I think it is pretty good and have even fooled omni friends with it.

      Couldn't agree more about Daiya, what a disappointment. I brought some back to the UK to try again - cheddar, mozerella and pepperjack. So far I've had the chedsr on pizza, pasta and straight out of the pack and it really is pretty crap. My friend was saying she really likes Amy's mac & cheese which is made with Daiya but I haven't tried that yet. Maybe it is better if used to make a sauce - did you try that Steven?

    1. Milts said...:

      Ha, I'm so glad it's not just me that suffers repeated failures with some American recipes!

      Chrissie at paperbagblog is currently raving about Vegusto every time I see her. I haven't worked up the courage to spend £5 on a block of cheese yet, but they swear it's 'like normal cheese'. Interesting to read your account!

      I love cheezly (after four years of avidly avoiding the stuff) but didn't mind Daiya as much as you did!

    1. Gulliver said...:

      Thanks for that, it was as interesting a read as you'll ever get about fake cheeses. I completely agree about Daiya, I thought it tasted really artificial, like Wotsits or something. The soy-free Cheesly and the flavoured Tofutti are the only ones I buy nowadays.

      In Germany, there's a very good one that has been fermented and ripened and actually could pass for a hard cheese - somewhere between emmenthal, cheddar and vegetable shortening. I am really struggling to remember the name, but it has a chilli-flavoured one called Volcano.

    1. Liz said...:

      I presume your huge sweeping statements about European v US tastebuds are somewhat tongue in cheek! I know plenty of Americans who hate Daiya, and I like it a lot in the right application.

      There's a problem with your basic premise really because not all dairy cheeses can do all 3 of those things - halloumi won't melt or stretch, and have you ever tried grating camembert?

      I find that every brand of non dairy cheese I've tried has a "best" application, where it beats the others.

    1. Steven said...:

      Teese has just gone in the bin (went mouldy in a sealed tupperware in the fridge). We tried it a couple of times after this post but don't plan to buy it again.

      Not sure whether the Tesco scheese is any cheaper - Tesco seem to have hiked the prices up after intro.

      I've tried the Amys Mac and Cheese from Wholefoods in the US (I was hungry and they have microwaves in store). It was alright - I prefer homemade with nooch. I'm back in August this year so will see if there's anything new.

      There seem to be quite a few Vegusto varieties I've not tried - will do when I get a chance. Here's another negative review: http://vanillasugarblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/vegusto-mild-vs-vegebelle.html

      I am aware that my sense of taste isn't the same as everyone else. I genuinely want to like things that I try - it just doesn't always work out.

      I believe that Volcano is a Vegourmet variety (see above). I don't often venture out to Vx when I'm in London - I don't use Kings Cross / St Pancras for trains that often.

      You presume correct - there's a certain element of sarcasm in some of the things I say that don't always come across online :)

      I'd agree that different ones are good for different things, and that not all dairy cheeses fit all requirements. I was referring to cheddar types of cheese, as opposed to soft, blue etc.

    1. Anonymous said...:

      Ah yes! Daiya is fucking horrible. I found your blog because I googled "Daiya is awful" Seriously. Why is it a thing?

    1. Anonymous said...:

      Entertaining, thank you! I haven't bothered with half the cheeses on your list (and probably won't), most of them really are a massive anti-climax, but I live in hope of somebody - please god somebody - make a decent vegan cheese... we're not all nut-munching, bland food worshippers, we like our stodge too! :-)
      Incidentally I just got a Teese from a certain online store - is it supposed to smell of old plastic? And does anyone know where it's made? (I thought it was American??)

    1. Greg Colbourn said...:

      Thanks for the post - I've not got round to trying any of the American vegan cheeses, so maybe I won't bother. My favorite is Scheese. Anyway, you say "Cheese is not addictive" at the end. I disagree - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casomorphin - it's like an opiate addiction! Let's hope Beyond Meat get on the case with the science - I somehow doubt they'd be allowed to add in synthetic opioids though :-(

    1. Ava said...:

      I dunno I think that's all very harsh, you're expecting too much. Maybe real cheese was never even that good, we were just high on opiates whenever we ate it.. hahaha. No but seriously vegusto cheese is amazing, try frying it like haloumi. Damn it's pricy though. Meh we probably just have different taste as I really hated that tesco cream cheese and can't really deal with cheezly anymore either (soy free is ok). Then also, you're missing out the two best ones, from Germany. The brand is called Wilmersburger, they do a grated cheese that is practically indistinguishable from real cheese and totally cheap. There was a scandal in Germany when little pizza shop kebab shop type places were using it on their pizza instead of real mozzarella because it was cheaper. Nobody knew for ages. Then the same brand also have slices that are delicious raw and also incredibly realistic. You should try these, you can get them on the vegan wonderland website. In the meantime, I'm working on a vegan camenbert/brie type cheese flavoured with different truffles, mushrooms and even a little garlic. That's gonna be awesome.

    1. Ava said...:

      And cashew cheese! What about cashew cheese? But you're all about the stretch right... I get it

    1. Ava said...:

      Omg and on vegan wonderland they also have a cheese with little fake bacon pieces and sausages filled with cheese, not to be missed!!! We shouldn't get hung up on how many millimetres stuff srretches.. we have loads of tasty variety. It makes me sad when vegans diss everything vegan, it's not encouraging.

    1. Miyoko Schinner brought out a book end of last year - Artisan Vegan Cheese... I'm attempting to make some of these, it would appear to take a few weeks to make a good cheese from cashews... or yoghurt... or pine nuts... well worth it.

      http://j.mp/Sch-ArtisanVeganCheese

      Also it's worth playing with miso/marmite/tahini (+ mashed tofu)... a tbsp of miso + 1.5 tbsp tahini + 1 tsp marmite is roughly a good combination... add oils / pasta / mushrooms (porcini etc) / whatever. Put it in a flan...

      It shouldn't be a comparison with normal cheeses... but about exploring the wonderful flavours that blending plant foods can achieve on their own....

    1. Anonymous said...:

      I've got no idea why they all taste so bad. I can make really good cheese flavours that I love. I don't need a block cheese except rarely and the ingredients to make it set are just too stupidly expensive. I've just got the Tesco one today. I think it is ok if I have it with some tomatoes to cover up the vinegar taste. The texture is not bad. Otherwise I find they are pretty much so bad as I would rather go without.

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