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Non-Dairy Cheese: Product Reviews

7/11/2010 9:16:59 PM

Tags: product review, vegan cheese, dairy free cheese

Dairy-Free Cheese 

My family and I are vegans. (If you’re unfamiliar with vegan diets, they are similar to vegetarian diets — no beef, no poultry, no fish, no pork — but they also exclude all dairy products and eggs.) We happened upon this lifestyle suddenly, but it’s changed everything. Less than a year ago, I decided to tackle a year of vegetarianism for a graduate school project, thinking that it wouldn’t be a big deal, and I’d be happy to have the year behind me. Vegetarianism is so often an emotional decision, but I wanted to approach it through research, not tears.

As it turns out, researching vegetarianism without tears is nearly impossible, especially if your research includes watching animal rights documentaries. Beyond emotions, I found myself surrounded by research that called into question so many of the foods I had eaten for my entire life. Suffice it to say, without going into too much detail, I found myself quickly switching my diet from vegetarian to vegan and deciding that this was a life change, not a year-long journey.

My family was curious about my project, and they began researching the subject as well. A month later, five out of the seven of us were vegans. The change happened so rapidly that our ingenuity had to fight to keep up with our diets. We couldn’t have meat. We couldn’t have milk. We couldn’t have Hershey’s chocolate — I nearly cried thinking about all of the s’mores I’d miss out on. (Then I found out that I couldn’t have marshmallows either, so the chocolate point was moot.) All we could think about was what we couldn’t have anymore. That first month was filled with a lot of salads and yearning.

While milk chocolate was a definite sacrifice, we all felt that our biggest sacrifice was cheese. I never realized how much cheese we had been eating until we couldn’t have it anymore. It had been everywhere.

The holes in our hearts, we now know, were caused by more than just missing one of our favorite foods. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that cheese is actually considered somewhat addictive. In contains something called casein, which is a protein found in dairy products. When casein breaks down, your body gets a small high.

High off cheese? It sounds crazy, but it explains a lot. E magazine’s Just Like Cheese? says, “When put on a strict, meat- and dairy-free ‘vegan’ regimen, the food most missed by 59 overweight post-menopausal women was cheese.” Not chicken. Not steak. Not eggs. Cheese. I didn’t have to be post-menopausal to miss it. Grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, macaroni and cheese, my favorite deli sandwich and just plain sharp cheddar — I missed these foods so much that it made me angry.

 

Cheese rage. I was in a state of cheese rage for a very long time.

 

Today, I’ve recovered almost completely. Maybe my body has gotten used to my cheeseless diet, or maybe my brain has just gotten too tired of fighting. Either way, I miss cheese rarely these days. Some days, however, the fight goes on.

 

Vegans aren’t alone in this struggle. After doing some research, I was astonished to learn that a huge number of people are lactose intolerant. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 90 percent of Asians, 70 percent of Blacks and Native Americans, 50 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of Northern Europeans are lactose intolerant.

Those of us who simply cannot fathom cheese-free pizza for life have been forced to search for non-dairy options. Fortunately, recent advancements in vegan cheeses have provided us with dozens of options. From non-dairy cream cheese and parmesan to nacho cheese and mozzarella, the options are endless. But which is best?

The Grilled Cheese and Quesadilla Experiment (Vegan Gourmet and Daiya) 

Seven months. That’s how long I went without a grilled cheese sandwich. The marathon ended when the grilled cheese and quesadilla experiment began.

I was so excited about this project that I could hardly wait for my husband to return home from the grocery store with the goods: one block of Follow Your Heart brand Vegan Gourmet Cheddar Cheese Alternative (I’ve found that products names get longer as your diet becomes more specific) and one bag of Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds.

I’ll give you the dish on these two brands before I tell you about our experiment. We had tried Vegan Gourmet’s mozzarella non-dairy cheese before on our pizzas and been happy with the results. The cheese doesn’t melt quite as nicely as real cheese, but the flavor was good and so was the texture. We hadn’t ever tried the cheddar variety.

Daiya is like the holy grail of the vegan world. Vegans rave about the way it melts and tastes. However, we tried a pizza a couple of months ago with Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds, and I found the whole thing just a little bit too goopy. The dairy-free cheese didn’t set up again at all, so I felt more like I was drinking cheese than eating it.

Vegan Gourmet cheeses are made from tofu (Vegan Gourmet Nutritional Information), whereas Daiya cheeses are made from tapioca (Daiya Nutritional Information).

I decided to make three vegan grilled cheese sandwiches: one with Vegan Gourmet, one with Daiya and one with both (just for fun and because I knew we’d both want more). I used regular wheat bread and vegan butter (Earth Balance is our favorite) in a frying pan.

It may have been a mistake to make the Daiya grilled cheese first. It was too good. That overly-melty quality that Daiya has is perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches. The flavor was good but not strong. My husband and I adored it. My cheese rage was nowhere to be seen.

Next, I made the Vegan Gourmet sandwich. Because I bought this cheese in a block, I simply cut thin slices of it for the sandwich. Unfortunately, the cheese wasn’t melted all the way by the time the bread was toasted. The texture was wrong, but the flavor was pretty good. Because it’s not a perfect cheddar flavor, the strong taste is slightly disconcerting. We both felt, however, that if we had eaten the Vegan Gourmet sandwich first, we would have been happy enough.

The vegan grilled cheese sandwich with both cheeses was good except for the Vegan Gourmet melting problem. I liked that the Daiya provided the melt while the Vegan Gourmet provided the flavor. Still, our favorite was the Daiya.

A couple days later, we still had tons of leftover cheese, so we decided to make quesadillas. This time, I shredded the Vegan Gourmet. I layered both kinds of cheeses on a tortilla with vegetarian refried beans and some jalapenos. It couldn’t have been more delicious, and I didn’t notice any problems in melting. If we could afford to buy two kinds of cheeses all the time, I’d definitely use these in cooperation from now on. Yum!

As far as pizzas go, we’re going to stick with Vegan Gourmet, at least for now. Its pizza-topping texture, in my opinion, is much more appetizing.

Tree-nut Cheese (Dr-Cow) 

I requested a sample of Dr-Cow’s Cashew Nut Cream Cheese, and the company was nice enough to send me not only cream cheese, but a variety of other cheeses as well, including Aged Cashew & Hemp Seeds Cheese and Aged Macadamia Cheese.

I opened the Cashew Nut Cream Cheese at the office and let everybody have a try. We served it with rice crackers and Wheat Thins. Most of us were really surprised by how good it was. I had never tried vegan cream cheese before, so I didn’t know what to expect. As far as being an exact match for dairy cream cheese, I’m not sure that Dr-Cow delivers. But when it comes to delicious spreads for crackers and sandwiches, I’d definitely use this product again.

This cream cheese was mild enough that, when eaten on a Wheat Thin, the taste of the cracker took over a little bit. On a rice cracker, however, the flavor of the cheese shined through. It was a little bit tangy, which made us think that this would be a great summertime spread (maybe on fresh-baked bread with some tomatoes). Not a single person in the office said they wouldn’t try the cream cheese again, which, in the world of non-dairy alternatives, is a rave review.

After I took the leftovers home, I had the opportunity to try the spread on some fresh rye bread. The tanginess of the cream cheese with the strong flavor of the rye was wonderful.

The other cheeses from Dr-Cow weren’t trying too hard to be exact imitations of dairy cheeses. They came in individually-wrapped 2.5-ounce pieces, and I cut small wedges out of them to eat.

These cheeses aren’t intended to be pizza toppings or quesadilla fillings, they’re supposed to be enjoyed for their unique flavors without too many other ingredients. They melt in your mouth sort of like a super-sharp cheddar with a little bit of grittiness (probably from the nuts). Their flavors are relatively strong. While I was eating them, I was thinking about all of those fancy stinky cheeses that I never tried while I could have and thought that Dr-Cow’s cheeses were probably the non-dairy equivalent of those. Pair them with a glass of red wine and a novel with many large words, and you’ll be the height of class.

My husband’s favorite was the Aged Cashew Nut Cheese, which is relatively mild in comparison to some of the others. It is the company’s top seller, and we can see why.

Here’s an extra surprise: Aged Cashew & Crystal Algae Cheese. Imagine my surprise when I opened a wrapper to find a lump of extremely green cheese!

Nacho Cheese (Chreese) 

Road’s End Organics makes a product called Chreese that I had been warned about. One of my vegan blogging friends told me that if I ever saw a product called Mac and Chreese, I should walk briskly in the other direction. One of our editors had a similarly bad experience with the same product.

Needless to say, I was a little bit wary of trying Nacho Chreese Dip. I received samples of the mild and spicy varieties on the same day as the Dr-Cow samples, so the whole office tried the Chreese as well. We didn’t have any chips at the time, so we served it with rice crackers and Wheat Thins.

The Chreese arrived in jars, and the oil inside was separated from everything else. If you imagine the way natural peanut butter looks in a jar when it separates (but less natural looking and yellow), you’ll have an idea of what we were greeted with when I opened the first jar of Chreese.

Most of the people who tried this product felt that it was neither really great nor really bad. The texture of the dip is much thinner than a regular canned nacho cheese — kind of like a creamy soup. The flavor was much more peppery than cheesy. The editor who had tried Mac and Chreese noted that this dip was significantly better than that product.

I brought the nacho dip home with me and tried it with some baked tortilla chips. Under those circumstances, the flavor of the Chreese becomes much more apparent, and I wasn’t sure I liked what I tasted. After a handful of chips, I abandoned the dip, and both jars have been untouched in my refrigerator ever since.

My recommendation for this product is to use it only if it will be paired with other good flavors. On a bean burrito, any of the less-tasty flavors of the dip may be covered up and the good parts might come through. Overall, however, I have to sadly admit that I don’t see myself buying Nacho Chreese Dip any time soon.

Parmesan (The Vegetarian Express) 

The Vegetarian Express sent me a sample of their Parmesan substitute, Parma Zaan Sprinkles, which look similar to regular Parmesan but have a slightly more yellow tint.

My husband and I both tasted these by themselves first. We thought that the flavor was pretty good (far, far superior to other vegan Parmesans we’ve tried in the past), but it did have kind of a funny aftertaste. The good news is that Parma Zaan Sprinkles aren’t supposed to be eaten alone.

We tried them on some spaghetti and were happy with the result. They don’t really have a melting quality, so I’d consider them more of a seasoning than a cheese. If you’re dairy-free and you really miss Parmesan, I’d definitely recommend these. Would I use them in a recipe that required a large amount of Parmesan? Probably not — they’re just not similar enough to the real thing. As a meal topper, however, they’re plenty good enough.

Obviously, I wasn’t able to try all of the delicious non-dairy cheeses on the market, and there are still a lot that I’m excited to try. Have you had successes or failures with vegan cheeses? Share your story by posting a comment below.


Lindsey Siegele is the Senior Web Editor at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

Photo by Lindsey Siegele 



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Post a comment below.

 

Jw Gardener
4/18/2013 3:37:55 AM
Whoever wrote this knows nothing and is a silly. Thanks for wasting five minutes of my life.

Cynthia Arpin
1/31/2013 3:12:58 PM
Thank you for the great information. After years of dealing with eczema on my husbands hands we have pretty well linked dairy to the flare ups. We are jumping in to a non-dairy diet to truly see how he does. We once lived organically in a commune so the idea is not a stretch, but actually doing it sounds a bit daunting. Cheese and tortillas have been a staple in our diet for years!!

Kathleen Eynon
1/3/2013 7:20:39 PM
Thank you soooo much for sharing!!!! I've recently been tested for food allergies and found that I'm actually allergic to wheat, corn, dairy, eggs and peanuts. I LOVE cheese, especially blue cheese, and I'll never eat it again. Talk about cheese rage -- it's more of a broken heart! Anyway, I look forward to trying these. So thanks again!!

CatLady
6/3/2012 2:14:14 PM
Very helpful information! I've been lactose intolerant for a number of years, plus I live in a rural area where it's very hard to find alternatives to dairy. All the soy Cheddar brands I've tried have a slightly odd taste that ruins mac and cheese or cheese omelets. Galaxy Nutritional Foods' soy Cheddar melts really well, but that funny "off" taste is a bother. Their rice Cheddar is a disaster! Feels, tastes, and looks unnatural! That company's Parmesan was a disappointment, too. I tried Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet mozzarella...while the taste and texture was good, once put in foods or on pizza, the texture became more plastic and it simply didn't melt. I'm going to try Daiya soon...have to drive to a city 50 miles away to get it, but a once a month trip there...if the Daiya lives up to reviews...to stock up will be worth it. As far as a good non-dairy Parmesan, the very best I've tasted is Parmazano. Not easy to find because it comes from the UK, but I stock up on it from a site called veganessentials (dot) com, and it's really so much better than any of the other brands I've tried. And, believe me, I've search high and low for decent non-dairy substitutes for mozzarella and Parmesan...I'm Italian and pizza is my life's blood!!

Raymond Lopez
6/2/2012 2:25:15 PM
I became a Vegan, about a month ago, health reasons more anything drove me to this lifestyle. Meats were easy to leave......Cheese however has been hard to live without. Thanks for your article, i'd like to try some of the alternatives.

Karl Peterson
5/14/2012 4:25:40 PM
Thanks for the information! I am allergic to dairy and have been looking for and eating alternatives for more than 25 years. There are certainly a lot more options, and good ones, of the completely vegan variety - as opposed to products that contain casein and the like - than there used to be! Daiya is a favorite of mine. There is an Amish Market in New York City that carries a number of artisan soy cheeses (http://amishmarketwest.com/food-delivery-TW/amish-market-west-new-york-city.1775.r?QueryStringValue=JHPIcLmm9VmGIOUxKq1hDA==) - unfortunately their website just gives a catering menu that doesn't include the cheeses - and they list the ingredients, so I can pick out the ones that do not include casein. Among those there is a great gouda cheese - mild flavored, but it melts great in risottos and dishes like that.

Amy_45
8/31/2010 11:08:35 AM
What a great source of information! I am so tired of buying dairy-alternative butter and cheese and being disappointed. I can't wait to try your favorites. My infant is allergic to milk and eggs and is breastfed, so I am not eating those items either. I relate to your post in that this experience has made me realize EVERYTHING has cheese in it and it has been difficult weaning myself from the cheese foods, like pizza and mac and cheese. Incidentally, I have tried the rice-based american cheese slices and a canola oil-based butter that were awful! I like pretty good the Earth Balance butter that you mentioned.

Erica_8
8/23/2010 10:16:39 AM
Not sure if my first post actually made it, so I apologize if this is a double posting. Hi and thanks for the great article and information! I recently developed lactose intolerance and am quite sad about the whole ordeal. I am not so sorry that I cannot have milk anymore, as I never really did care much for it, but not being able to have cheese is terrible. Also, shopping is a much longer experience as I am now forced to read labels in-depth and eating out has become quite a hassle as well. I am wondering Lindsey, how you were able to acquire samples. Is this due to your job, or are they readily available to anyone? There are many types that I would like to try, but am remiss to spend $8 or more + S&H and then I may not even like the product. Has anyone ever tried Sheese by Bute Island Foods? I have a Gouda mac and cheese recipe that I miss having. They seem to be the only company making Gouda style dairy-free cheese. Thanks again for all the great info!!

radical daddy
7/18/2010 9:43:34 AM
Give me milk/cheese derived from beans, grains & nuts any day as opposed to from the blood cells, pus & hormones of another species, which is exactly what animal milk is composed of. Not to mention the exploitation and violence which ALWAYS occurs within all animal "farming", unless you can find a farm that does not take the babies away from the mother and kill them for veal or any other reason, does not kill the mother for meat production when she is no longer "productive", does not force the mothers to be continually impregnated, birthing and lactating, and actually allows all the enslaved animals to live out the total duration of their full, natural lifespans. Very doubtful. Thank you to Mother Earth News for being fair enough to include this article, as it's well known that the magazine leans heavily toward the raising & killing of animals for consumption, as the recent vehemently anti-vegetarian article clearly attests.

Maguire
7/14/2010 1:53:06 AM
I have developed a lactose intolerance over the past year and have had to resort to some of these vegan cheeses in order to survive it. I am very happy for the review on the Dr.Cow cheeses though, since that is one of the ones I have been wanting to try for some time. I make my own homemade pizzas and the best combo for cheeses I have found is 2 parts Rice brand mozzarella cheese and 1 part Daiya mozzarella cheese. Rice doesn't melt as well, so the Daiya helps fill in the spots that the Rice doesn't cover. The Daiya seems to melt a little on the runny side if you use too much. There is an interview series on healthcare that you might enjoy. http://www.ourblook.com/topic/healthcare.html

lauren_13
7/13/2010 9:22:35 AM
Did you even read the article? Some of the them were soy based, but others were nut based and one was tapioca. And enjoy your local cheese, not all of us are lucky enough to live somewhere that has local cheese or have the money to afford it!

RADICAL MAMA
7/13/2010 7:24:11 AM
it's not cheese, it's soy, soy, soy. there's a whole other bag of worms. give me local cheese made from animals i can see & touch any day over filling my family with soy.







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