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Vegan “cheese”: Any good ones? June 30, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been a vegetarian over half my life: no meat of any kind, including no poultry or fish. No fertilized eggs. No meat byproducts like gelatin. No pseudomeats, bacon bits, and the like. But I’m not a vegan: I enjoy our own cosseted heirloom chicken flock’s rich, tasty eggs, and I enjoy cheese, sour cream, and yogurt.

Recently, though, I’ve been trying to reduce the dairy component in our friend Ben’s and my diet. After reading Alicia Silverstone’s book, The Kind Diet, I bought some Earth Balance “butter” and found that it worked just fine, as long as you added a pinch of salt. I often use olive oil instead of butter in recipes, but when I want butter, Earth Balance works for us as an acceptable dairy-free substitute, with no hidden animal products like gelatin (see my earlier post, “Gelatin is everywhere,” for more on this).

OFB is my guinea pig on this, since I haven’t told him I’m trying to switch to more vegan dairy alternatives for our cholesterol and weight’s sake as well as my conscience. He hasn’t noticed the switch to Earth Balance, and I’m not about to tell him.

Unfortunately, there’s still the cheese issue to contend with. Cheese on sandwiches; shredded, crumbled, and grated cheese on salads; cheese in sauces and on pizza and pasta: OFB and I love cheese in all its variations. Could vegan “cheese” make the grade?

In a word, no, at least as far as the vegan “cheese” in our local grocery is concerned. I bought blocks of vegan mozzarella and Monterey Jack before OFB and I set out on our mini-vacation. I typically buy veggies, dips, chips, hummus, nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and cheese for the road so we don’t eat nasty fat- and sugar-laden snacks out of desperation.

This time, I thought I’d substitute the vegan “cheese” for real cheese and hope we’d enjoy it. So I sliced the blocks of “cheese” into strips and put them in zip-lock bags. But I was curious, so I tasted them before putting them in our cooler. Eeeewwww, they were totally revolting. The pasty texture and aftertaste were so awful I made myself throw them out, telling OFB when he later asked “Don’t we have any cheese?!” that I’d forgotten to get any.

I’d still like to make the switch to vegan cheese (and sour cream and yogurt). I checked online and found a couple of suggestions: Cheezy from Redwood in the U.K., and Earth Balance Gourmet Brand over here in the U.S. (Tofutti brand yogurt and sour cream were also highly recommended.)

Problem is, now I’m scared. That pseudo-cheese was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted. Does anybody out there have a yummy cheese alternative that actually tastes (and cooks) like cheese? Have you tried Earth Balance Gourmet Brand cheese or Cheezy, and if so, what did you think? Is there a source for Cheezy in the U.S.? Any other thoughts? Please let me know!

           ‘Til next time,




1. nancybond - June 30, 2010

No thoughts on this, actually — my daughter tries very hard to stick to a vegan diet (she’s eaten vegetarian since she was 13) and I’ll ask her, though what’s available here in Canada might not be the same. Charlie and I have been following a no sugar/no flour or other refined carbs diet for a few days now — we’re never hungry, but some meals are challenging, so I feel your angst. 😉

Thanks, Nancy! Let me know what she says. No refined carbs is tough. I love multigrain bread, but still occasionally backslide when a luscious baguette or hot-from-the-oven dinner roll or warm Greek pita presents itself. And I’ve always found brown rice a terrible challenge, but have finally made the switch to brown basmati rice (fortunately available in bulk here at our local Indian grocery and our favorite Mennonite bulk foods store, Echo Hill Country Store). Sadly, you lose the heavenly scent of cooked white basmati rice, but the brown basmati is still good rice. I’m still struggling with pasta. I love artichoke pasta, which combines protein-rich Jerusalem artichoke flour with semolina but doesn’t change the taste or texture of the pasta, but I can’t bear whole-wheat pasta, which neither tastes nor feels like pasta at all. I recently bought some rice pasta and plan to try it when OFB isn’t home in case it’s also a taste and texture disaster. Ack! Believe me, I feel your pain as well!

2. Elephant's Eye - June 30, 2010

As a vegetarian I HATE the idea that somewhere a calf is being raised for veal. Because I drink milk in my tea, have yoghurt on my muesli, and usually cheese for lunch. The milk and yoghurt is low fat (because ‘they say’ you need some fat to absorb the calcium). But have you seen the puddle of molten butter that oozes out of a cheese toastie?

(BTW I whined about the stick of butter before. And you obviously love cheese as much as I do!)

I did once try for months!!! Rice milk in tea. NO CHEESE. The principles are there, but I can’t eat like that. So I have milk from happy cows, and ignore the veal. And eat less cheese. I said LESS cheese 😉

I know exactly what you mean, Diana! The godsend of chickens is that they’ll lay eggs in perfect health and happiness without a rooster (and thus, chicks in embryo). If goats would produce milk without kids, I’d happily raise a few does here at Hawk’s Haven and enjoy all the fresh, organic cheese, yogurt, and milk I could get. But alas. I read that one forward-thinker announced confidently that one day soon, meat could be grown in labs rather than at the expense of living animals. Maybe before that day, cows, goats, and sheep could be raised to produce milk without having to produce calves, kids, and lambs in the process?!

Elephant's Eye - June 30, 2010

I am horribly afraid that is already possible somewhere in a lab. If the cows aren’t ‘happy’ they are fed hormones for more milk production. That is why we choose milk labelled rBST hormone free. To a breast cancer survivor those ‘added hormones’ are terrifying.

Quite right, bovine growth hormones are frightening to all women (breast cancer, premature puberty, etc.) and to men as well. (I can’t think of a single boy or man who’d voluntarily add estrogen to his diet!)

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4. Tanya - July 1, 2010

I have tried Daiya vegan shreds, both in cheddar and mozzerella. Daiya is new on the market, and is quite good when used lightly. I have found that if you pile it on though, the texture is a bit off and I don’t care for it. It does work on pizza, in a grilled cheese sandwich, and to make quick nachos. Haven’t tried it in lasagna yet, but that’s next on my list. I didn’t know Earth Balance made cheese, so now I’m off to look into that as well!

Thanks, Tanya! I’ll look for Daiya shreds around here and try to resist the temptation to dump them on!

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7. Becca - July 9, 2010

I was a vegan right out of college and worked at a natural foods store several years ago–and I NEVER heard anyone say they had found a good vegan cheese. 😦

You’re also the second person to mention this book in as many days. I don’t think I’ll be reading it… 🙂

Yeah, I suspect that some things just don’t translate. No wonder vegans are skinny! And actually, the book was kinda endearing. I’d say borrow it, don’t buy it.

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