Plant-based cheeses for cheese lovers
While soy, almond, and other plant-based milks have been around for over a decade, food producers have struggled to design a popular dairy or egg replacement that closely resembles the original in taste, texture, and appearance. Not only is it difficult for food scientists to closely replicate dairy products, there’s less demand for these alternatives since so many people, even vegetarians, are unfamiliar with the huge environmental and ethical costs of the dairy and egg industries.
This means we get cheese-like products made from nuts or starches, ingredients that try to not only taste, but melt and congeal, like dairy cheese. As a vegan, I’ve tried much of what’s available, and there is a huge variation in quality among non-dairy cheese products.
The best cheeses have a creamy, nutty flavor, while the worst ones are often described as tasting “chemical-y”. The taste is not identical to cheese, so these alternatives really shine as part of recipes with other complex flavors and textures.
So though the alternatives may not make a cheese-snob happy, they certainly satisfy my desire to add creamy, cheesy elements to my food. They cost about the same as the dairy-based options, and even my local Safeway boasts a couple of plant-based cheeses, which are located in the Cheese & Dairy case so consumers are more likely to find them.
The most ambitious alternative cheese maker I could find is Real Vegan Cheese, a food innovation company working out of San Francisco. It prides itself on making the real thing, without the cow, by using yeast and “synthetic biology” to create real milk proteins, which are then used to make cheese with the traditional cheese-making process. Like pretty much all of the companies using new technology to make highly realistic alternatives, it’s not ready for the consumer market, nor was I able to find out when it might become commercially available. But when it is, I’ll be there.
Takeaway: Plant-based cheese substitutes are tasty and proliferating fast. Here’s my short list to finding the most delicious non-dairy cheese currently available.
Best shredded cheese: Follow Your Heart
Best cream cheese: Tofutti
Best soft cheese: Kite Hill
Best boxed Mac n’ Cheese: Daiya Foods
For more on meatless and dairy-free deliciousness, check out this chart.