Cheesus christ, that stuff tastes awful…is what I used to think. A lot of new vegans (and maybe more established vegans) miss cheese from time to time. You may wonder why you would abstain from eating something you enjoy the taste of, and if you are interested in an answer to that question, then this website provides an overview of the unpleasantness of the dairy industry. The short of it is that the processes by which we get the milk to make dairy products cause suffering and exploitation, which vegans don’t condone, and by not using these products, there is a change in demand, however small.
Although I have only been vegan for 2 years or so, I’m aware that vegan cheese has come a long way in a short time, and that the options are constantly increasing. Now, first of all, it is not like dairy cheese; the taste is different and the way it cooks (or doesn’t!) is quite different. Some vegan cheese is soy based, some is coconut oil based, others use vegetable oils and starches, and some are made from nuts. It sounds quite strange at first, to make a cheese from a nut, but it is easier, and nicer than it first sounds.
I expect vegan cheeses to continue to improve, as there are now some dedicated ‘cheese’-makers who have done wonderful things with culturing nut cheese. I believe the Queen of Vegan Cheese to be Miyoko Schinner, based in the US, but she has a book, which incidentally makes a very good gift for a vegan friend. I’ll now do a quick run down of the vegan cheeses I have tried, it is also worth noting that some which I initially found disgusting, I now enjoy!
- Violife – coconut oil based. This is the most widely available of vegan cheese. Most supermarkets now sell both the ‘creamy’ version (like Philadelphia) and the blocks or slices, which are like a very mild cheddar, but with a texture more similar to dutch cheeses.
I am a big fan of violife, it will do you a fairly satisfying cheese and pickle sandwich. It doesn’t cook well, but shopped up very finely, it can be well dispersed in some scrambled tofu. I have also used it grated and baked on-top of a vegan lasagne/mousakka. It doesn’t melt much, but it will sort of ‘puff up a bit’ and do the baked cheese thing where you get little burnt bubbles. It will melt well in the microwave, and so if you want cheese on toast, and have this cheese, I’d make toast, then spread melted violife cheese on it, rather than grilling, which just dries the cheese out.
Violife also do sliced cheeses, with flavourings, which are a nice addition to a platter, great in a sandwich etc. The herbed one and the pizza one are my particular favourites. These are a little harder to find, but are now available in Holland and Barrett, and other health food stores.
Violife should be most pleased with their Parmesan, as it is unapologetically stinky. This is a real triumph for vegan cheese in my opinion, and opens the door way to rich and flavourful risottos, and a gives a little extra kick to a beautiful and simple pasta dish. It is worth noting that this cheese does not pack any protein, and is mostly fat and carbs – so not something consume regularly.
Cost – £2.30 for 200g (Solid cheese); £2.48 for 200g (creamy); £4.50 for 235g (Parmesan).
- Vegusto – vegetable oil, starch and nut based. For me, this is the most delicious vegan cheese available. It is tangy, flavourful and has a great texture; softer than conventional cheddars, but just BEAUTIFUL. However, when my meat eating family tried this at christmas, they were not keen! They did go nuts for the violife though. I really think swiss-based vegusto have got it down. They have a range of cheese, some mild, some mature, some melty, some nutty, some herbed, some blue style cheese. I haven’t yet found one I don’t like.
These are quite expensive, and maybe, should be reserved for a special occasion, but I think life is a special occasion, so I’d recommend treating your vegan friend to this at least once in a lifetime! They can be purchased on amazon, as well as Vegusto’s website, but I have never seen them in shops.
The melty one comes specially recommended from a friend, but I haven’t tried it yet. I tried the none melty one grilled on toast the other day – again, it didn’t melt, it just dried out. This would be my recommended cheese for ‘crumbled egg’ though as all kinds of wonderful things happen when this hits a pan.
Worth noting is that Vegusto also do meat alternatives, and most of the stuff keeps a long time, so you could order a bunch to make the delivery cost less upsetting if you plan on keeping your vegan friends for a while!Cost – ~£4.99 a block but there are often offers.
- Bute Island SHEESE – Bute Island do a huge range of vegan cheeses. Lots of spreadable ones and solid ones, and even a greek style cheese! I have to admit, I am not their biggest fan; I find that it tastes fake (I know, it IS fake).
Their cheeses are coconut oil and soya based, and are available at Holland and Barratt, and in other health food/vegan shops.
I will try more of their range (I have some of their ‘blue style’ cheese in my fridge at the moment), but so far, I haven’t enjoyed the texture or flavour very much.
It’s worth saying that most vegan cheeses have trouble standing up alone, and fair best on a cracker with a pickle, in a sandwich with salad, or as part of a cooked recipe. It is much more important to use them sparingly and well, and use them to enhance rather than as the centre-piece in my opinion. Also – I do believe Sheese melts.Cost – ~£2.70 for a 227g block.
- Tesco’s ‘Free From’ range – this shit is disgusting, don’t feed it to anyone. It is one of the worst things that I have ever tasted. Soya based nightmare. Their spreadable version is also vile.Cost – £2.25 for a 227g block.
- Tofutti – This is soya based. Love this spreadable cheese on a wholemeal bagel. Sainsbury’s allegedly stock it, but I have never seen it in store. If you are lucky enough to live in Leeds, you can get it at a great shop called ‘Out of this World’. They also do a sour cream alternative, which of course has tonnes of uses. Tofutti also do cheese slices like the kind of crappy burger cheese people enjoy at barbeques. All cheeses have their place! This website sells the Tofutti range in the UK, and the prices look reasonable. It would be nice to see Tofutti in more shops.Cost- £1.89 – £2.85
- Veganic pizza cheese – This is made of vegetable oil and potato starch. Strange, hey? It is quite clearly exactly what it says, a cheese for pizzas. It is pre-grated and quite mild. In my opinion, it doesn’t cook well, and brings little to your pizza game.
Contrary to popular belief, cheese brings surprisingly little to pizza. A good homemade base, with some semolina for texture, a rich tomato sauce and an array of toppings (red onion, peppers, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, thinly sliced aubergine, vegan basil pesto or Linda Mac’s sausages, crispy onion, sweetcorn, gherkins, BBQ sauce and mustard) needs no cheese, I promise.
But some of you may like it…Cost – £4.99 for 500g
- Wilmersburger cheese block – This is potentially one of the hardest cheese to get hold of, unless you are in London of course, and can buy it from Vegan Cross. It is made of coconut oil and starches. It has won over non-vegan cheese fans in my family.
There’s one with a distinctly mushroomy flavour which is delicious. Importantly, this cheese melts! I really would recommend getting this cheese for your vegans if you are able to!Cost – £4.99 for 300g
- V bites Cheezly – This is a soya based cheese, but I am aware that they do make a non-soya based cheese. It is quite a widely available vegan cheese, you can get it in Holland and Barrett and other health food stores, and from Ocado. I’m not that keen on it, but It’s not so bad on a burger when camping…They also do a melty one, but I haven’t tried it.Cost – £2.19 for 190g
- Tyne Chease – I tried this at a vegan festival, and it was pretty special. This cheese is nut based, and made in the UK by a small company. It is delicious, but very expensive & difficult to get hold of. You can buy directly from their website, but you probably won’t.
Probably more suitable as a gift!Cost – ~£10 per block.
So, that’s my current round up of vegan cheese. I hope it’s useful to someone. It can make the difference between providing and average bowl of soup, and doing that little extra by making it more than ‘just a bowl of soup’. It’s a fairly easy way to sort some lunch for vegans, and although I recommend that no-one makes a habit of using these high-fat foods (although, significantly less fatty than dairy cheese!), it can be helpful to know what you can grab easily at supermarkets.