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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Review of Daiya Vegan Cheese

I think it would be a lot more difficult to live lactose-free if there weren't all of these wonderful products on the market that cater to people with issues or lifestyles similar to mine. Replicating cheese is obviously a HUGE deal, as tons of childhood comfort foods revolve around this ingredient. Some of the available products I've encountered, however, have been either baffling or downright gross.

A common ingredient in a lot of these non-dairy cheese replacements is casein, milk protein, which makes them a non-option for vegans or those who are allergic to dairy, as casein is usually exactly what they are reacting to. The huge difference I've noticed between casein containing products and those without it is structure. This makes sense, as I'm sure adding milk protein to something gives it the cheese-like stretch and texture that's so crave-able. I've actually encountered a supposed "cheese replacement" that contained casein and also stated "may contain lactose." Who the hell is eating that stuff? Who CAN eat it? And why wouldn't they just eat real cheese at that point?

If you're going for something baked and melted, that's where the non-casein containing stuff usually falls short. I tried the "Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet" stuff raw, and it wasn't too bad. The cheddar flavor especially, sliced and put on sandwiches is actually really delicious. I made the mistake once of grating the mozzarella flavor and trying to bake a pizza with it, and it turned into some kind of wet grossness that slid off the crust when I picked it up. Yuck. Lesson Learned. As I've mentioned before, I think the "Tofutti" brand cheese slices taste like gasoline, so I never tried melting it as I really have no desire to eat melted gasoline.

A year or so ago, a product called "Daiya" started generating some buzz on the internet. It's another shredded cheese replacement, but the stuff is completely vegan friendly and therefore contains no dairy whatsoever. I was intrigued and looked into buying some, but it seemed to be only available for wholesale. I was disappointed, but also excited to learn that a few pizzerias were making vegan pizzas with the stuff. I reasoned that if they were selling it to the public, it couldn't be disgusting. When I walked into the little independent supermarket in my neighborhood the other day and saw that they started carrying it, I immediately snatched up a bag, excited to try it.

In an attempt to cling to my diet, I baked small pizzas on little individual flat bread rounds. I made plain pizza, black olive pizza, and chopped pepper and onion pizza. A lot of the "cheeses" I've tried have trouble becoming pizza when I start loading on the toppings... they don't melt quite right, so I wanted to make a gradient of plain pizza to loaded pizza. I tried some of it unbaked right out of the bag and the flavor was different, maybe even better than some of the other products I've tried. Hope!

I popped them into the oven at 425ยบ for about 10 minutes. Non-dairy cheeses have the tendency to stay as separate shreds, even after melting, and the Daiya seemed to be no exception from this. However, it seemed to turn into one mass, like real cheese, directly under the top layer. It's possible that if I left it in the oven for longer it would have completely melted together, but I was afraid of another wet blob incident and possibly took it out prematurely. This is only a visual concern, however, and has no effect on the taste.

So, the verdict? Out of all of the non-casein containing, completely vegan products I've tried, this is a clear winner. On taste alone, especially once it's baked, I prefer it to anything else I've tried. On texture, it beats out the vegan stuff. It still doesn't quite have the same stretchiness as the casein products, but it has more stretch than any other vegan product. It also has a very satisfying gooey texture once it's completely melted.

Surprisingly, the toppings didn't influence the way the daiya cheese melted at all. The cheese on the pepper and onion pizza (which ended up being our favorite) melted just as much as the cheese on the plain version, so it seems that this stuff can probably take more abuse than some of the other products out there. Keith even told me that I should use Daiya in lasagna from now on instead of what I was using before.

I think we're going to start seeing a lot of new developments in dairy substitutions in the near future, as I've been noticing tons of stuff popping up on the market. I used to have trouble finding chocolate chips, and now I can just walk into a store and pick up a bag that says "dairy-free" in huge letters. There used to be a couple of tubs of soy-yogurt to choose from, and now there are tons of companies making yogurt in a gazillion flavors from soy and even coconut milk. I hope this isn't a fad, because it's certainly been making my life a lot easier!

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