A few weeks ago, Sainsbury’s launched a new range of dairy free cheeses made with a coconut oil base. It took the whole vegan community by storm (obviously), but then something happened that put the whole thing in the mainstream spotlight. Normally the announcement of a new vegan cheese is only interesting to, well, vegans, but for some reason the very existence of this new non-dairy cheese sparked off a huge rant from a cheese-loving vegan hater. She told us how much she loves “real” cheese. She officially uninvited us to her famous cheese and wine parties. She told us we should call our imposter cheese Gary, because it “shouldn’t be called cheese”.
Every vegan in the country decided that this was a hilarious idea, so we started eating toasted Gary sandwiches, put Gary and chutney on oatcakes, and spread Gary on our bagels. I honestly felt sorry for any vegan actually named Gary. Maybe they all changed their names to Gareth, or Bob, or Dave or something. I kinda feel like the whole joke is getting a bit old, but maybe I was just bitter that it took me nearly three weeks before I managed to get my grubby mitts on some of this mythical fromage. When I did, I bought one of each. For scientific purposes.
In the true spirit of science, I decided that I couldn’t conduct an accurate experiment or write a non-biased blog post without a control group. Vegan cheese has really grown on me, but as I don’t eat the dairy stuff, are these actually good? Or have my tastebuds just adjusted to the lack of dairy in my life? Luckily I have a human omni taste tester in the form of my lovely assistant Leanne. Leanne does not usually like vegan cheese, so these would have to pass her rigorous testing standards. Say hi to Leanne guys.
I’d heard good things about how this stuff melts, which sounded very promising. There’s nothing worse than a vegan cheese that takes on the appearance of melted, bubbling plastic as soon as it’s melted. I haven’t found a non-dairy cheese in the UK that melts as well as some of the versions I’ve tried in Canada so this had a lot to live up to.
Verdict: I thought this one whiffed a bit of feet, but it wasn’t exactly overpowering. I found the texture a bit “off”, slightly grainier than a dairy cheese, though it did taste more like cheddar than a lot of vegan cheddars I’ve tried.
Leanne thought this one tasted and smelled the most like cheese, and could actually pass for cheddar though the texture was a bit off.
Cheddar-style with caramelised onion
Caramelised onion is my weakness. It’s my go-to chutney to have with cheese, and it can usually mask the taste of even the most dire of foods. Tastes like shit? Dollop caramelised onion on it and choke it down. I had high hopes for this one.
Verdict: I thought this one was alright, but it smelled SO STRONG. I used to love strong, stinky cheeses, but this absolutely reeked. The texture was pretty much spot on and it had a bit of a sweet undertone, though there was a characteristic acidic tang to it that could have been down to the caramelised onion or just the fact it was vegan cheese. Not really a fan.
Leanne REALLY didn’t like this one. “It smells revolting and tastes worse. I’m not eating the rest of this.”
Wensleydale-style with cranberries
I used to love this type of cheese in my pre-vegan days, so this was the one I was most looking forward to. It certainly looks like the real deal, but does it make up for the lack of Wensleydale on the christmas cheese platter?
Verdict: I really don’t know how I feel about this one. On one hand I really like cranberry in cheese, but on the other this tasted absolutely nothing like Wensleydale.
Leanne thought this one tasted a bit like the sweet icing on a cake. She wasn’t sure if she thought it was good or bad, and commented that it tasted nothing like cheese. Oh, and she’s not a fan of Wensleydale anyways. “My boyfriend might like it though. He likes sweet things in cheese.”
I’ll be honest here, I don’t actually like feta, which I think is what this variety was meant to mimic. I find it too salty and it just seems to be a way to ruin a decent pasta salad.
Verdict: I found this so bland, it was like the cheap imitation fetas you find in supermarket packaged salads, and also a bit grainier than the other vegan cheeses we tried. I’m wondering when someone will make a decent vegan cheese with the taste and texture of a high-end dairy cheese rather than just aiming for basic cheddar and supermarket feta?
Leanne thought this one was alright but “it doesn’t taste like cheese though”. She ate half the cracker so I guess that was a good sign for this one.
Soft cheese-style with garlic and herb
Soft cheese is something that companies like Tofutti have been doing well for years; in fact, I have been eating their version of cream cheese for way longer than I’ve been vegan. Could I be bothered to trek all the way to the big Sainsbury’s for this stuff, when New Leaf Co-op is just around the corner from my flat and Tofutti is so reliably tasty?
Verdict: This was a perfectly serviceable soft cheese, very similar to Tofutti though the tiniest bit tangier. I’d like to try the plain version of this, which I think would be perfect for my daily bagel.
Leanne liked this one. “I’ll actually eat this, it’s nice” (5)
The winner for me was the cheddar, which I might hide in Leanne’s mac and cheese the next time I make it. It tasted pretty authentic and was much better than others I’ve tried; this might be my go-to for cheddar until the UK starts importing Daiya.
The clear winner for Leanne was the soft cheese, which was the only one she finished.
I’ve been eating non-dairy cheese for at least 4-5 years when I’ve been back to Canada, with restaurants like Fresh and Hogtown Vegan serving cruelty-free food that tastes just like their meaty and cheesy omni versions for way longer than I’ve even been vegan. Fresh has been around since the 90s and Hogtown Vegan has been open since 2011. There are vegan “butcher” shops and delis that sit alongside places that cater for omnis because veganism has become more mainstream there.
You might ask why I asked an omni to help me taste-test vegan cheese, as it’s unlikely they’d be the demographic buying vegan cheese. This is actually the exact reason I did it. Far too often the vegan community is so happy with the fact a company has decided to add vegan ranges to their products that it’s overlooked whether the food actually tastes good. I know I’ve gotten a wee bit overexcited in the past when I’ve seen a vegan menu or a new vegan product, only to be disappointed. It’s easy to convince ourselves that what we’re tasting is good and to recommend it to other vegans, but we need to remember that the reason why companies do add vegan foods is because there is a demand for them. Don’t let them get away with half-arsed products just because they happen to be vegan-friendly!