I began my hunt for a great vegan cheese alternative optimistic and with an open mind. Just because I'd never tasted one that I was happy with doesn't mean they don't exist, right? I scoured supermarkets, the internet. I made requests on Twitter and Facebook. I bought every single animal-free cheese product I could find on the market, ranging from pre-sliced singles to shreddable blocks to pre-shredded toppings to creamy spreads to vegan cream cheese and sour creams. In short, I'm pretty sure I've tried every single vegan cheese alternative out there.
The bad news? There's a dearth of good ones. Some are downright abysmal, with a tofu-like flavor or watery, grainy interiors. Others come closer to the mark. But even the very best melting-style cheeses like Daiya or Field Roast's Chao Cheese slices are a far cry from the real deal. They do hit some of those gooey, creamy, and fatty textures that vegans are forced to live without when give up animal products, but they're not the kind of food that an omnivore will happily chow down on when given the option of regular dairy-based cheese.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that there are two cheese-style products I've found that are not just good-for-vegan food, but are good enough that anyone should be happy eating them. Neither Kite Hill's fresh almond milk cheese nor Miyoko's Creamery's nut cheeses are meant to be melting cheeses—they're better for spreading or crumbling—but they're both products I would proudly serve at my table alongside nuts, olives, and crackers (and have!).
Tellingly, both producers take a more artisanal approach to nut-based cheesemaking, using actual bacterial cultures and techniques that are generally reserved for dairy cheeses and applying them to their nut milks. The attention to process shows.
Miyoko's Creamery Nut Cheeses
Miyoko's Creamery, a Marin Country-based operation that is slated to open a tasting room right there nestled in with all the dairy cheese producers in the coming months, has 10 different cheeses on the market of varying textures and flavors. Strike that—as California law prohibits a non-dairy product from being called "cheese," they refer to their stuff as a "cultured nut product". Have you ever wondered what happens if you smoke a vegan cheese or coat it in ash for aging as you would a dairy cheese? So have the cultured nuts at Miyoko's.
The flavor pictured above—Classic Double Cream Chive—is my favorite. It has a lightly crumbly but creamy texture with a buttery finish very similar to goat cheese. It's also got goat cheese's citrusy tang, but without any sort of barnyard notes. The herb and garlic flavor is quite pronounced, though it all tastes like real ingredients, not the dehydrated garlicky flavor you get in, say, chive cream cheese. If you're a fan of Boursin, then this is an easy like.
For now, Miyoko's seems to still be a lower volume producer, so I didn't get to taste all ten of their varieties, but I'm looking forward to grabbing a few wheels as they become available, even after I'm no longer keeping a strict vegan diet. (P.S. the smoked version was interesting but skippable.)
Miyoko's Kitchen is available for mail order (I also found it in my local Whole Foods and at Berkeley Bowl).
Kite Hill Creamery
Kite Hill Creamery has a slicker operation than Miyoko's Creamery, with a team of scientists and chefs working with them to develop dairy-free cheese alternatives. Their products consistently impress me though they're also, unfortunately, consistently under-seasoned. No worries, nothing a little flaky sea salt at the table can't fix. Though they offer a soft-ripened, Brie-style cheese, it still needs a little work. It's their fresh cheese that really impress me.
Their Soft Fresh Original almond milk cheese comes in a dense block with the texture of pressed and drained ricotta and a sweet, bright, fresh flavor to match. Sliced, sprinkled with salt, and served on a cracker or crumbled into a salad or on top of your taco, it's not just a great alternative to dairy cheese, but it's actually tastier than many widely available fresh dairy cheese on the market.
My favorite way to eat it is to place it in a bowl, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and mash it with a fork until it achieves a soft, ricotta-like texture with moist curds. Prepared like this, it beats the pants off of any mass-market ricotta you can find in the supermarket.
Kite Hill also makes almond-based cream cheese and ricotta, though I haven't found them available yet.
Kite Hill is exclusively available through Whole Foods.