With the rise in popularity of plant-based diets, vegan cheese has become a sought-after alternative to traditional dairy cheese. Whether you're a committed vegan, exploring a dairy-free lifestyle, or simply looking to reduce your consumption of animal products, vegan cheese now offers a delicious and cruelty-free way to enjoy much loved tastes and textures! In this beginner's guide, we'll explore what vegan cheese is, its various types and flavours, and provide helpful tips for incorporating it into your culinary adventures.
What is Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese is a dairy-free cheese alternative made from plant-based ingredients. It typically mimics the taste, texture, and meltability of traditional cheese without the use of animal products. Instead of dairy milk, vegan cheese is often crafted from plant milks such as almond, soy, cashew, or coconut. These non-dairy milks are transformed into creamy bases using techniques like fermentation, culturing, or blending with natural thickeners.
Some types of Vegan Cheese:
A) Nut-Based Vegan Cheese: Made from soaked and blended nuts like cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts, nut-based vegan cheeses offer a rich and creamy texture with a distinct nutty flavour. b) Soy-Based Vegan Cheese: Crafted from soy milk, soy-based vegan cheeses come in a variety of styles such as slices, shreds, or blocks. They offer a mild and versatile base for a wide range of flavours. c) Tofu-Based Vegan Cheese: Often used as a base for vegan cream cheese or ricotta-style cheese, tofu lends a smooth and slightly tangy profile to these dairy-free alternatives. It can also be used in sweet dishes, like vegan cheesecake!
Flavours and Varieties:
Vegan cheese comes in a diverse array of flavours and varieties to satisfy every palate and increasingly, you'll find an option to replace most dairy classics:
- Staples: Often resembling the taste of mild cheddar or maybe mozzarella, classic vegan cheeses are great for everyday use in sandwiches, salads, or as pizza toppings.
- Herb and Spices: infused with aromatic herbs or spices, some vegan cheeses add a burst of flavour. They might be rolled in peppercorns and mixed herbs to enhance taste. Think garlic and herb, smoky paprika, or zesty blends.
- Aged and Artisanal: For those seeking a more sophisticated experience, aged and artisanal vegan cheeses deliver complex flavours reminiscent of gourmet dairy cheeses. From sharp and tangy to creamy and nutty, there's an option to please connoisseurs. Our shamembert for example, is styled on Camembert... and borrows many aspects of the making processes. They're cultured, aged, and hand-flipped daily til mature.
- Soft and Spreadable: Perfect for spreading on crackers or bagels, soft and spreadable vegan cheeses offer a luscious texture and sometimes, a delightful tang. They often feature herbs, garlic, or fruity undertones.
- Meltable: Ideal for grilled cheese sandwiches or gooey lasagnas, meltable vegan cheeses have improved significantly in texture and meltability, providing that desirable stretch and creaminess when heated.
- Nooch: there's also nooch, or nutritional yeast... not technically a cheese, but a popular and flavourful ingredient among those seeking a plant-based alternative to cheese. Nooch is frequently used to add a cheesy flavour to vegan cheese alternatives, such as cashew-based cheese sauces or dairy-free Parmesan substitutes.
Tips for Enjoying Vegan Cheese:
- Experiment! Try different types, and different varieties... there's bound to be one that suits your taste preferences. Explore local vegan cheese makers and browse reviews online (but remember, taste is linked to personal preference!).
- Explore pairings, and how they enhance flavour. Not just in a cheese and wine sense... pair vegan cheese with your favourite breads or crackers, fruits / jams / relishes to find creative combinations (new, or mimicking dairy, like our Blue with slithers of pear or pear relish!). Consider complementary flavours and textures.
- Cooking and melting: when using vegan cheese in cooking, it won't always perform the same way as dairy. You might need to allow for slightly longer melting times and use lower heat to prevent burning. You can also try mixing the cheese with other ingredients to achieve a smooth and melty consistency. Try a plant-based bechamel / white sauce as your base and swirl in a creamy vegan cheese.
Be open-minded. Open yourself up to a world of possibilities and don the term 'ethical eater' with pride. From nutty to meltable, soft to artisanal, there is bound to be at least one vegan cheese to suit every taste and occasion. And if you make just one small change, in the long run you can help make a big impact. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned vegan, we hope this guide will give you a little more confidence when exploring the diverse and delicious world of dairy-free cheeses! So, grab a slice, spread it on a cracker, or melt it into your favourite dish, and savour the planet-friendly and flavourful experience that vegan cheese can to offer.
Remember to enjoy the process of exploring different vegan cheese options and experimenting with new flavours. Not liking one doesn't mean you won't like them all. With a bit of creativity and an open mind, you'll find that vegan cheese can be a delightful addition to your plant-based culinary adventures.