Thanks to the assistance and suggestions of the sous chef and new sous chef jr., I decided this week I would go out on a limb and try dairy-free cheese, or in this case, vegan Cheddar cheese. Now, you are probably as confused by those three words as I was. How on earth can cheese, a standard dairy product, actually be free from dairy? With not being a vegan (I do love my cheese after all) or a true cheese expert, I do not know the exact science behind dairy-free cheese, I just know it exists. From my reading over the years, I realized that these days, there is only one vegan cheese brand that truly matters: Daiya. I decided to put it to the test, in a very simple grilled cheese sandwich…
- Daiya Vegan Cheddar Cheese
- Italian Bread
the cheese: daiya vegan cheddar cheese
Yes, this vegan cheese is the furthest thing from the standard cheese that you are used to. No dairy or gluten or basically anything is included in vegan cheese, but somehow it melts, and while this is up for debate (my opinion in a bit), it is supposed to taste just like real cheese. That is in theory of course. It was up to me to decide how it reacts in practice.
Before we get into taste, let’s actually look at what is in this vegan cheese.
Filtered water, tapioca and /or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavors, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral).
There is no way I can go through each ingredient and explain their significance in this product. I am not even sure anyone besides Daiya employees could do just that. Some can argue, and maybe rightfully so, that these many ingredients in one cheese product is just insane. (Do YOU know what annatto is? I surely don’t.) However, I would imagine that Daiya would argue that all these ingredients help create a very cheese-like product that vegans can enjoy on their mac-n-cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Like I do with all of the cheeses I use, I tasted this cheese prior to cooking. I was intrigued and had high hopes. Unfortunately, as soon as I stuck one shred of this vegan Cheddar in my mouth, my high hopes were dashed. Well, they were dashed as far as I would never be eating this cheese straight from the bag. The taste is simply incomparable to real cheese and the texture was just weird. Plus, after having a good amount of these shreds in my hand, the vegan Cheddar left a greasy residue all over my fingers. I would imagine that not many people, vegans included, eat this cheese plain, right out of the bag.
It was now time to see how the cheese performed in a grilled cheese sandwich.
I wanted to truly taste the vegan Cheddar so I decided to go very plain with this grilled cheese sandwich: cheese and bread only. Since the butter I normally use is most definitely dairy and I wanted to make this sandwich dairy-free, I used olive oil on the bread.
I chose Italian bread as I did not want the bread to overpower the flavor of the cheese. Plus, this Italian bread from Whole Foods is just all around great.
the grilled cheese:
daiya vegan cheddar grilled cheese: B-
I should first mention that this grilled cheese and in turn the Daiya vegan Cheddar, was not horrible in the least. I was able to finish the entire grilled cheese without any issues. It was not gag-inducing. With that being said, as someone who does eat cheese, this particular dairy-free, vegan Cheddar will never enter my daily cheese eating rotation. (Honestly, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It isn’t even a surprise to me.)
Overall, the Diaya vegan cheddar “cheese” was a mixed bag of both good and bad. It definitely melted and the texture was as good as advertised. If I was only concerned with meltability, I would have been extremely impressed. However, I also had to worry about taste. The plain, grilled in olive oil, Italian bread actually overpowered the flavor of the cheddar. The taste was very mild and just odd, maybe even waxy. It did not reflect the actual flavor of what I believe cheddar cheese tastes like. For vegans, this may be a good (great?) replacement for cheese, I do not know. (If you are a vegan and have tried this cheese, please let me know your personal experience in the comments.) However, for me, the vegan Cheddar just was too blah to make a point of trying again. I will definitely be sticking with the very yummy real thing when making a grilled cheese.