Oct 6, 2012

Days 3 - 6 (Thirty-Day Vegan): Super Cheese

It's day 6 in my vegan challenge! What I've discovered so far is that when it comes to new kinds of food, I am very enthusiastic about trying a little bit of everything pretty much right away. I don't know if it was a particularly rough day at work and I am comfort eating, or I just knew that I have vegan cheese at home, but I biked extra fast today and I had a heck of a time not taking a spoon to the vegan soft jalapeño havarti. Ok, maybe I took a teeny tiny nip with a spoon O.o

Honestly, cheese is one of my all-time favorite foods in the whole wide world. This may sound really unhealthy, but I'm very comforted by cheese in all the ways it comes: super sharp cheddars, soft creamy cream cheese, the baby wheels in the red wax you put in lunch boxes, and even the gooey stuff that comes with macaroni sometimes (although, I have to say, I do not like powdered cheese). The way some people feel very strongly about bacon (which I don't remember ever liking), I feel about cheese. It's largely due to my love of cheese (along with my love of a couple of other foods) that I believe that even if this whole vegan thing goes really well, I can never make the full jump into total veganness... I gotta have that cheese, at least a little every now and then.  Ok, I know that's a lot of cheese talk, but I'm serious: I love cheese. This is why I can't wait past the first week of this 30-day vegadventure to do a vegan cheese taste face off. There's a surprisingly large market for vegan cheese... or, I mean, not surprising figuring I can't be the only one who loves the stuff. I've collected three different brands to compare and test here, all found pretty easily at my local Market of Choice (the Oregon equivalent of Whole Foods).
choices, choices.... vegan cheese
I will scientifically nom through these cheeses and analyze them based on these 4 criteria:
  • taste
  • texture
  • cheese-likeness
  • versatility as an ingredient

Daiya Havarti Style Wedge (Jalapeño Garlic)

A little background on Daiya: this is a totally vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free cheese. It's made mostly from nut flours, vegetable fats and proteins, and tapioca (for texture, I suppose). The soy-free part is what surprised me most, though, since soy is the go-to for so many foods, vegan and non-vegan alike. The cheese comes in block (er, "wedge") form in a plastic wrapper, which has a neato feature of being resealable! It's soft and has little flecks of jalapeno and I'm guess whatever other spices go into havarti.
The Taste, Texture, Cheesiness... This cheese is in my top all favorites already. It's smooth and creamy, like real dairy cheese, which is a long way to come from the days of grainy rice and soy substitutes I remember from my youth (when my mother stealthy snuck more non-dairy options and yikes... unsweetened aloe juice into our diets). The flavor is very cheese-like, in fact so much so it took a lot of will power to not devour the whole wedge with ritz crackers for dinner the other night. Of course, it is not a totally substitute for all dairy cheeses. I do like smooth and soft spreadable cheese in some dishes, but when it comes to some of my comfort cheese arrangements, I definitely go for a straight up sharp cheddar cheese stick. Daiya is definitely the spreadable variety, however, but still very good. I put some Daiya Havarti inside a tortilla with some vegan turkey, spinach, tomatoes, and red onions and called it a turkey wrap! I've also had it melted inside a tortilla with some of the other vegan cheeses I horde in the fridge and had myself an ooey-gooey mess of cheese fantasticality!
So creamy, so cheesey, so spicy!

Galaxy Nutritional Foods Veggie Shreds (Cheddar Flavor)

I've actually been eating the Galaxy Foods fake cheese as part of my normal diet for a while. Despite my extreme devotion to all things cheesey, I do recognize it's not exactly a health food. High cholesterol, really high animal fat, and really really high calories, with not too many nutritional benefits. Except deliciousness. Deliciousness is a benefit. So a while back (like a couple of years), I started subbing in Galaxy Veggie Shreds and Veggie Slices for some of my normal cheese options.
For this cheese face-off, I went with the cheddar flavor (which may be my favorite kind of real cheese). A glance at the ingredients already shows how different of a food this is from Daiya. Galaxy has a lot more vegetable starches, colors and chemicals, and it is a soy product. It also contains a small amount of casein, which is a milk product. I looked this up on my vegan resources, though, and this is one of those gray area foods that organizations like PETA want to endorse because although it contains some animal product, it needs support so that businesses can identify the demand for low- or no-animal product foods. The Taste, Texture, Cheesiness... Like I said, I've been eating this cheese already, so I knew what the limitations and the possibilities for it as a cheese substitute was when I started to compare it to the others. Of all the cheeses I tested, this is the least cheese-like. At least, it is straight out of the package. I was definitely able to dip into the Daiya with some crackers right when I got home from the store, and the cream cheese was just the same. But if you try to eat Veggie Shreds right from the bag, you'll get a nasty surprise. It's not that it tastes bad, it's just that it doesn't have the actual flavor or texture of cheese... until you cook with it and melt it. Out of the bag, it's dry and kind of bland. It has a crumbly texture I don't really like.  But I've tried it out as a mix in with omeletes (when I could have eggs) and I've melted it onto flatbread with some pizza sauce and it was a pretty good vegan pizza. The cheese does have a high melting point than diary cheese, so you have to be careful not to burn your bread while melting your cheese. Another version of this, Veggie Slices, are more like the plastic packages American cheese slices I loved as a kid (I still make little cheese books with slices and eat them page by page). The slices are like the shreds, not so good on their own (I wouldn't make cheese books with them), but pretty good for texture and accented taste with other foods - like a whole wheat tofu sandwich with spinach and tomatoes!
Veggie Shreds tossed in to an omelete... oh how I miss eggs! 

Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese

So, me and cream cheese have this "relationship"... it's the kind where I love it so much, usually with a spoon, but it gives me a terrible stomach ache (from all that spoon loving, probably). When I was in college and pretty much everything I ate was delivered to my mouth on a spoon, I used to get a little tub of cream cheese and a jar of Nutella and make chocolate cheesecake spoon bites (such a deliciously bad idea). When I have bagel and cream cheese and it's up to me to spread my own cream cheese, then usually the bagel just becomes a crusty version of a spoon and I eat cream cheese. So then a vegan cream cheese has to live up to this spoonability, if we are using my normal diet habits with cheese as an indicator of true cheesiness. The Follow Your Heart brand is somewhere in between the minimalism of Daiya and the super chemical-ness of Galaxy in the ingredients area. This is also a soy-based food, but it doesn't have as many artificial ingredients and the lactic acid in this cheese is vegetable-derived.

The Taste Texture, Cheesiness...
The first way I tried this was smeared on top of a Ritz cracker, and something about it did reminisce back to the grainy texture of tofu cheese from my childhood. It is creamy, though, it just seems to not be fatty cream cheese creamy. This, more than the other cheeses, seems like a substitute cheese. It's cool and soft, but it is also missing the kind of tanginess I associate with cream cheese.
I definitely like it a lot! Vegan cream cheese on crackers was my go-to after work snack a couple of times. For breakfast, I warmed a tortilla on a skillet and then spread some cheese on it with fruit jam. The website also suggests making cheese cake with this vegan cheese, which I'll have to try for sure!
Cream cheese and Ritz <3 Gamer food of choice!
Do you eat cheese substitutes? Which is your favorite? Does normal cheese play a big part of your life and diet like it does mine?

No comments:

Post a Comment