There are few things in this world as magical as cheese, with its addicting melty texture and creamy goodness.
Simply put, parmesan, mozzarella, and cheddar are the stuff of dreams–the heroines to pizza, pasta, sandwiches and life in general.
After finding that vegan ice cream substitutes can be pretty darn good and even happily swapping in dairy-free soy and almond milk into my morning bowl of cereal, I decided to enter the next frontier.
In a moment of naiveté, I decided to put vegan cheese to the test.
Unfortunately, I am sad to report the results were not as promising as I had hoped. In my moment of blissful ignorance, I had forgotten the udder importance of dairy in making cheese so spectacular.
In my cheese to cheese battle, I compared three different substitute cheese brands, all commonly available in stores such as Publix, Kroger and Whole Foods. For the sake of consistency, I picked three mozzarella-wannabes and tasted each plain and on a toppingless pita-pizza so as to give the cheese room to shine…or to flop, as it were.
First off, the baseline. Before delving into the wild, wild west of vegan cheese, I enjoyed a slice of regular pita pizza coated in milk-based mozzarella.
What is it that makes for a good mozzarella? I definitely expect the cheese to stretch into happy lines of goodness connecting my slice of pizza to the pizza mothership. I also want something creamy but chewy without any overwhelming saltiness. Needless to say, the baseline, store-brand shredded mozzarella delivered.
Price: $2.39 per 8 oz.
Calories: 110 per 1/4 cup
First Two Ingredients: Pasteurized cultured milk, salt
Go veggie. Go big. Or better yet, go home. Unfortunately, this product left a lot to be desired on the taste frontier. While it had enough substance to coat the pizza (something Daiya fell short on), it had a very crumbly, dry texture, a weird smell and took longer than regular cheese to melt.
It tasted something like a bad cheese filling from a store-bought pastry. Needless to say, it was not fit for pizza. While not inedible, it was not something I would buy and serve to friends.
Also, real vegans take note: not all of the Go Veggie cheeses are vegan. In fact, they sell a similarly packaged mozzarella product that is merely lactose free, so be sure to read the labels carefully.
Price: $3.99 per 8 oz.
Calories: 80 per 1/4 cup
First Two Ingredients: Filtered water, modified potato starch
Two words: you tried.
Right out of the bag, these shreds are far greasier than any of the other options. They smelled like a block of hard cheese, so that was refreshing, but they were saltier tasting than other options.
Like their Go Veggie counterparts, these took a while to melt and just didn’t look appealing. Although the shreds were nice and long, it was like putting string on a table instead of a tablecloth: you just didn’t get the same pizza-surface coverage without putting more cheese on.
In terms of taste, it wasn’t a pizza-perfect fit, but it performed better than Go Veggie. It had the appropriate creaminess with a hint of stringiness. I am docking it points on saltiness and grease though. Admittedly, I like taking pizza grease off with a napkin, so if you are like me, this won’t rank amongst your favorite not-cheeses.
Price: $4.99 per 8 oz.
Calories: 90 per 1/4 cup
First Two Ingredients: Filtered water, tapioca flour
Houston, we have a winner.
So, don’t eat this stuff plain, unless you have a hankering for plastic. That said, once melted, this baby is passable for the regular ‘ol dairy stuff.
It is hard to tell when it is melted, and it is not as creamy as the standard kind, but it has the stretchiness you dream of when you think “pizza.” There is a hint of a nutty aftertaste, but all in all, this is fair game for vegans and carnivorous dairy-drinkers alike.
Price: $4.69 per 10 oz. block
Calories: 80 per 1 oz.
First Two Ingredients: Filtered water, organic expeller-pressed soybean oil
So, what is one to do? Is it worth spilling the extra cash on vegan cheese?
Granted, I only sampled mozzarella for the sake of my wallet, but if you are looking for a dish to make for a vegan friend, just skip the cheese; go for something like tofu or substitute chick’n. The price tag on the cheese is not worth the stretch.
You also can’t share fake cheese with your four-legged friends. Mine is a big cheddar fan for one.
What the cheese has going for it though, is, well, the lack of dairy. If you care about animals and the environment, there are some solid arguments for going vegan.
There is also a wide array of fake cheeses, from spreadable to sliceable, so if you are truly making a vegan transition there are other brands and products to sample.
Just be willing to settle for a bit less cheesiness for a bit more moola.