Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vegan Cheese Tasting

I've started a new series on my personal blog called 'Easy Vegan', where I provide recipes and other suggestions for making the transition to veganism easier. One of my readers had asked for recommendations for the best vegan cheeses, so with the help of the rest of the Humboldt Vegans team, I organized a vegan cheese tasting. Last Saturday, before a lovely dinner at Wildflower in Arcata, we all got together and sampled a variety of cheeses. (Thanks Heather, for hosting again!) Sadly, I forgot to bring the camera, so these stock product photos will have to suffice.

Round One - Mozzarella Smack-Down

~ VS. ~

To determine the best mozzarella-style cheese for melting, I made some cute little pizza bites on slices of baguette with sauce, spices, sauteed onions, and of course, cheese. We pitted Follow Your Heart Mozzarella (my personal standby for at-home pizza and sandwich making) against underdog Cheezly Mozzarella. The results of this particular showdown were rather anticlimactic - all of the tasters agreed that they tasted nearly identical, at least in their melted form.

A few quick notes on melting these non-dairy cheeses - If you didn't already read it, be sure to check out my earlier note explaining how to encourage vegan cheeses to melt in the oven. I also just found this promotional video from Follow Your Heart that shows how to use their cheeses for pizzas, mac and cheese, and quesadillas. The chef mentions that the cheese melts at 450 degrees, and I usually cook my pizzas around 425 degrees, so I'm thinking maybe if I just cooked them at a slightly higher temperature, I wouldn't have to go through the water-spritzing routine I usually use.

Back to the Follow Your Heart vs. Cheezly competition - I had some leftover cheese so I decided to follow up today by sampling them both un-melted. I tasted each alone and on crackers. My personal opinion was that I liked the taste and texture of Follow Your Heart better than Cheezly, but that could have been just because it's what I've become accustomed to.

Moving on...

Which Cheddar is Better?

~ VS. ~
We sampled two varieties of cheddar cheese - Teese Cheddar* and Sheese Medium Cheddar. We ate slices of each with crackers, apples, and alone. The general concensus among group members was that the Teese was more Velveeta-ish, and the Sheese was pretty amazing, with a more mature flavor and a nice firm texture. I would definitely buy the Sheese again - it's the first vegan cheddar cheese I've tried that is good enough to snack on straight from the container.

Again, I had some leftovers, and I offered Carlos some of the Teese today, which he thoroughly enjoyed - I think he ended up eating something like four slices. This was a major breakthrough - in the past, he has shunned all of the vegan cheeses I've offered, and I've had to compromise by buying him the soy slices that contain casein. Now that I know he likes Cheddar Teese though, I'm definitely planning to eliminate those nasty processed, casein-laden slices from his diet - hooray! So the loser of the adult taste test (Teese) had some redeeming value from a three-year-old's perspective at least.

* Yes, if you're very observant, you may have noticed that the Teese photo shows the nacho cheese flavor; it's the only decent image I could find online, but the variety we actually sampled was cheddar.

And last but not least -

Dr. Cow's - No Competition

There really is nothing to compare Dr. Cow's cheeses to - except perhaps the other flavors in their lineup. As far as I know, nothing else like it exists - Dr. Cow's crafts exquisite raw, vegan cheeses by hand using traditional techniques. I will confess up front that I never was a 'fancy cheese' connoisseur, so I honestly can't compare it to cheeses like brie and the like; however, everyone at our tasting thought that the Dr. Cow's Aged Cashew cheese was totally delicious and amazing. It was a little tangy, and a lot yummy. If you're looking for a fancy-schmancy, spreadable cheese, and you don't mind shelling out some dough, this is an excellent choice.

I think that just about wraps things up... if you have a favorite (or least favorite) vegan cheese, please leave a comment, and if you were present at the tasting and there's anything I left out, please feel free to add on!

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