We doubt that we’ll ever give up real cheese. We love it on pizza, crackers, between slabs of bread, and generously grated on pasta. At the same time, we’re conflicted. Dairy doesn’t particularly agree with our stomach or waistline. And of course, cheese, which typically comes from cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo, isn’t good for animals or the planet.
So what’s a cheese lover to do?
Though there are still vegan cheeses that taste like soft plastic, the new artisanal ones are delicious in their own right. And that’s the thing about vegan cheese: Set your expectations accordingly. Vegan cheese may not have the exact creamy, salty, umami flavor of a triple-cream brie, but that’s missing the point. If you’re vegan or trying to cut back on animal food products, it’s absolutely worth trying.
Our highly unscientific vegan cheese taste test included three brands and varieties that you can now find at supermarkets and gourmet health food shops nationwide. We cracked open a bottle of red and created a gourmet vegan cheese plate of our own. Here’s what we discovered.
Have vegan guests coming for brunch? Break open a container of Kite Hill cream cheese-style spread to schmear on those bagels. We found its creaminess and flavor almost indiscernible from traditional cream cheese although not quite as rich. It’s available in plain, chive, and jalapeno flavors and can be used as a sour cream substitute. For a spicy morning breakfast, try jalapeño tartine toast.
Miyoko’s cheeses borrow heavily from dairy technology and use a propriety technology that involves fermenting vegan dairy cultures. We tried the smoked mozzarella and found ourselves going back again and again for more. The smoky flavor and creamy, spreadable consistency isn’t like dairy mozzarella, and it doesn’t stretch but it melts and browns just like dairy cheese. Make a veggie mozzarella panini for a quick lunch.
Treeline cheeses are made with ground Brazilian cashew nuts that are cultured with a probiotic culture called lactobacillus acidophilus. We tried the cracked pepper aged nut cheese and found it pleasingly tangy, firm, and a little spicy. It’s available in soft French-style and aged hard cheese varieties and browns nicely and can be fried. Try it in hearty dinner dishes like mac and cheese and risotto.
Photos: Courtesy of Miyoko’s, courtesy of Kite Hill, courtesy of Miyoko’s, Julien Pianetti