‘Real’ Cheese Addictive, ‘Vegan’ Cheese an Oxymoron
Would I buy vegan cheese if it weren’t an oxymoron?
One of the hardest things for me to give up when I went vegan was Parmesan cheese. I was used to eating it on just about everything.
Eventually, long after the parmesan addiction had lost its grip, I found a substitute, made with ground walnuts, lemon juice and nutritional yeast, among other things. I found the recipe in Bryanna Clark Grogan’s World Vegan Feast cookbook.
Now there’s a woman who understands that ‘real’ cheese is addictive! And how vegans suffer without it. Bryanna has no less than 11 vegan cheese recipes in World Vegan Feast alone, and possibly more in her many cookbooks put together.
Bryanna and other cookbook authors and food manufacturers have made valiant efforts to bridge the gap between ‘real’ and vegan cheese, with varying success.
I’ve tried a few brands of packaged commercial cheese substitutes. Mostly, they’ve convinced me that the phrase ‘vegan cheese’ is an oxymoron.
Some, called veggie slices or other names suggesting they are non-dairy, have casein from cows milk as an ingredient – so they melt well. That taught me to always read labels! It also taught me that the main problem with vegan cheeses is that they don’t melt easily. Never mind if they say they do. That’s just hype.
Commercial vegan cheeses also taste nothing like ‘real’ cheese, to me. That’s not necessarily a flaw, but it’s not what my taste buds expect. Plus, they are often strangely colored, especially the orange ones which claim to be cheddar flavor. Same goes for so-called ‘real’ cheddar cheese, come to think of it!
To my dismay, the cheese alternatives are often VERY expensive - 8 slices which probably cost 50 cents to make go for $3 – $4 in the grocery store. And each slice is wrapped in plastic which is tedious to remove, and has to go in the garbage and live in a landfill for a thousand years or something. Tsk. But it’s the same with ‘real’ cheese slices of course.
The best brand of vegan cheese I’ve found so far is Follow Your Heart. I’ve only tried the Mozzarella style, $4.26 for 10 oz at Earth Origins in Palm Harbor FL. That seemed like a decent price to me, maybe $1 more than the same amount of dairy Mozzarella.
I sliced my Follow Your Heart Mozzarella cheese alternative thin (1/8th inch) for grilled cheese sandwiches (my favorite comfort food). The cheese melted in the middle, and got quite runny, oozing out the long middle cut when I sliced the sandwich. The cheese at the outside edges remained stubbornly firm, and wanted to break apart and fall out when I cut the sandwich.
The taste of FYH Mozzarella straight from the package was bland, like dairy Mozzarella, but otherwise didn’t taste very cheesey to me. I thought a touch of lemon would’ve helped give it that slight cheesey tang of Mozzarella. Still, it had a decent texture, and my grilled cheese sandwich was more than edible.
Now, of course I don’t expect you all to give up buying those vegan cheeses – which hopefully will improve. After all, 10 years ago, they didn’t exist. And I certainly can’t fault anyone for wanting the cheesey taste.
But I must say that I’ve had more success making my own vegan cheese using the Suisse Melty Cheese recipe from World Vegan Feast. It was easy and cheap to make, with no soy or gluten, stored well and firmed up nicely in the fridge, and made a quite satisfactory grilled cheese sandwich. Next time I make it I’ll try leaving out the 2 Tbsp water to make a firmer cheese.
I’ve made the Walnut Parm from the same cookbook, and I look forward to trying the Vegan Gruyere, made with agar and other seaweed thickener so the cheese will melt properly. I’ve often used Vegan Cheese Sauce inspired by the sauce in the vegan fettucine alfredo recipe in Jolinda Hackett’s Everything Vegan Cookbook.
Making my own vegan cheese has shown me that even if cheese alternatives don’t taste quite the same as ‘real’ cheese, they can still be deliciously cheesey tasting and melty.
If cheeses like the ones I’ve made were commercially available, they’d be more expensive to make and priced a lot higher. I’m not sure that I’d pay the price, although as things stand, I hesitate to buy a cheese alternative at any price!
But maybe people who don’t have time or inclination to make their own vegan cheese would pay for the improved taste and meltability. Would you buy vegan cheese if it wasn’t an oxymoron?