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OK – let’s talk vegan cheese for a minute. I read somewhere that saying you don’t like vegan cheese is tantamount to saying you don’t like cheese – and, I think we can all admit, that is just crazy talk. I mean, I guess there are folks out there that really do not like ANY kind of cheese but who wants to know or hang out with THEM? They probably don’t like dogs, either, and are also likely prepared to vote for Trump. Fuck them.
Let’s talk about reasonably sane people. So – the point was, there are SO MANY kinds of vegan cheeses that sweeping & strident statements about not liking vegan cheese come off as either unattractively petulant or willfully ignorant. Nobody likes people like that, either. Still, I must say, I have said things that could be interpreted to mean, “I don’t like vegan cheese.” In fairness, I have not yet ventured out to Vromage – but I intend to next week when my mom is in town visiting.
I have, however, ponied up the $10+ per cheese at Miyoko’s Kitchen – sampling these four:
My opinion is that the hard cheeses are not “there” yet – in that they are unpleasantly sharp & really do not replace the things they are meant to with much success. They might fare better on a cracker or burger but naked – not so much. The two soft ones, however, the Garlic Herb & Double Cream Chive are pretty good – even naked. Additionally, they melted beautifully into cream sauces, like my 5-Ingredient Creamy Vegan Garlic Herb Pasta with Roasted Golden Beets & Chard, seen just above. So – if you are looking to make creamy pasta dishes – I recommend these guys with full-throated enthusiasm.
I have also tried one of the earliest vegan cheese contenders – one that met with general, vegan approval, that is – Daiya. Many a vegan has sworn by the awesomeness of this stuff. I must admit – my first efforts with it let me down but it is certainly possible that I had not managed my expectations properly & my disappointment was a result of expecting it to be a really cheesy product. It is not. I used to argue that it doesn’t melt but these shreds here did melt in a recent quesadilla that I made. I actually enjoyed that quesadilla, too, because I have learned to be a more generous audience for these early attempts at what is surely to evolve, eventually, into something as convincing as Beyond Meat’s faux chicken & beef-free crumbles are. This Daiya stuff is to mozzarella what veggie burgers are to real burgers – a decent substitute – not a product that will fool anyone into thinking they are getting the real thing. And it has a very distinct flavor – specific & not terribly cheesy – but not unpleasant either – once you adjust. But really – there is only one other vegan product (like Beyond Meat’s line) that, I think, CAN fool people is the Morning Star Sausage Patties – seen below. They are AMAZING & complete with seems like gristle & everything! They look & taste like the real thing. In fact, the first time I had one was at Duke’s, on Sunset in West Hollywood (now closed! ). I took one bite & blanched. These were REAL sausage patties! I complained to the waitress who assured me they were, in fact, veggie. I persisted – until she explained that their real sausage was served link-style. They had no real sausage patties. And it was then & there that I fell in love with these guys. (UPDATE 10-30-15 – these sausage patties are NOT vegan and they contain egg & dairy. See the full ingredients list in the comments below.)
The next vegan cheese I want to rag on are these guys. Kraft & Velveeta cheese slices are dreamy – even if they are likely to be more petroleum than dairy. So – I naturally thought that these guys above would be good. After all, the product they are there to replace is as chemically & fake as any food on the market. How hard could that be to reproduce? Apparently – very hard. These two flavors, as far as I am concerned, are downright yucky. Still – some got mixed in with real ones at a BBQ recently & the kids there were ripping the plastic off the real & vegan ones, indiscriminately, oblivious the word “vegan” I had written with a Sharpie on the impostor slices. They shoved them in their faces & happily munched – unaware that my dogs won’t even eat those things. But, to be fair, two of my dogs won’t eat the “real” cheese ones, either.
Onto Follow Your Heart brand mozzarella. Follow Your Heart, indeed. Follow it to some other brand of cheese – vegan or otherwise. I had high hopes for this stuff – primarily because it was very soft & smooshy in the package & that made me think it would be one of the rare vegan cheeses that really & truly melts near heat – like real cheese. I found it amid a plethora of vegan cheeses at the kinda awesome Lassen’s in Los Feliz. This is a health food HEAVEN with nearly every vegan option you can think of – even vegan bacon bits sold in bulk! GOOD ones, too. But this place is only frequented by those with pockets as deep as Madonna’s. Or those that want to go bankrupt faster than MC Hammer – or the reckless regular shoppers at Gelson’s. But Lassen’s is a great one-stop spot to find vegan staples like nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten and a wide selection of vegan cheeses. So – go there for specialty & hard-to-find stuff & a huge selection of bulk items.
Anyway – this Follow Your Heart shit is slimy & mushy & flavorless and does NOT melt in an oven at 350 – on top of a tortilla pizza. I know. Because I tried. It softened a lot but the the pieces never melted enough to lose their shape – like real cheese does. More importantly, it tastes like nothing & the raw texture is just unforgivable. I am almost motivated to write a strongly worded letter. Almost.
Next in the hot seat – Lisanatti brand mozzarella. UPDATE – THIS IS NOT VEGAN – AS IT CONTAINS CASEIN. I almost opted not to try this brand of vegan mozzarella – primarily because the packaging is so ugly. It makes me think of that Cracker Barrel logo above. I possess an inexplicable & irrational loathing for that Cracker Barrel logo. It is Just. So. Ugly! Look at it! What the fuck? Were the powers that be too cheap to hire a real branding company to design their logo? “Cousin Betty took a course in graphic design at Bodunk City College & she works cheap. A pack of Pall Malls & a handle of Fireball and you’re golden.”
Apparently, Cousin Betty took that course in the fucking seventies because there is no other explanation for the color and…ugh. It just makes me nuts. I’d rather starve than eat there & support their bad taste in graphic design & poor marketing strategies. But – I digress.
Lisanatti Foods seem to have let either Lisa or Natti design the packaging – unless Cousin Betty is still moonlighting but – you know what? It is OK. It is OK because whomever they put in charge to make this cheese did a fucking great job! Still – there is a lot of info on that ugly label. Apparently, Oregon is the landmark of quality, which is news to me. This cheese is not only gluten-free but Kid Kritics approved. I am always mystified when things to do with kids are deliberately misspelled – but whatever. Apparently these kids approved of this vegan cheese but after I saw those kids eating that gawdawful Tofutti shit – my faith in kids as kritics is shaken.
The label declares, “Shreds, melts and tastes great!” And, I am happy to report, it really does taste great! Naked. Really good. It is soft like mozzarella & truly tastes good. I did not try to shred it but I did try to melt it – on the same tortilla pizza I tested the Follow Your Heart cheese. Neither cheese really melted. They both got very soft & had I used this Lisanatti cheese in something pressed – like a quesadilla – the melting quality might have been facilitated more. So – not a true melt but I am feeling forgiving here because they got the taste to be pleasant & that is more than half the battle. PS – this is the cheese I used on my meatloaf grilled cheese here and I even nuked it for a minute and a half – hoping to just radiate the fuck out of it so it lost its will to not melt but I failed. SOFT – but not ooey-gooey melted. You can see in the photo below – it has not even melted enough to obscure where one slice ends & another begins – after nuking AND pan frying. But it tastes good and I will buy it again!
Now – on to Field Roast Chao slices. These guys get the real cheese thing across best. I have tried all three flavors & find them each to be distinct & genuinely yummy. The creamy original is like a provolone or mild white cheddar. Tomato cayenne is a very nacho cheese kinda thing & the coconut herb with black pepper is just a mild white cheese. The texture is right on & the flavors are good. And the packaging is attractive! This is the bar, in my opinion, for vegan cheese that is widely available in supermarkets & not just in specialty shops. While this cheese also failed the melt test in a 350 degree oven – it passed the “melt in a pan” test with flying colors! This is the only cheese I have attempted that with because I was certain that the tomato cayenne cheese & some Rotel would make an amazing queso – and I was right! Behold – my 5-Minute 2-Ingredient Vegan Nacho Cheese Dip!
Maybe all of these cheeses would melt in a pan – if given the chance – and that might be the secret to getting it gooey for sandwiches & pizzas etc…melt it in a an & pour it on top. I will experiment & get back to you on that.
Oh – and Soledad Sanctuary used to make cruelty-free goat cheese but they recently turned vegan & are developing their own vegan cheeses! If you live in LA, they have a stand at the Hollywood farmer’s market & are happy to let you sample their efforts. Eventually, they will be selling the cheeses through their site, too.
So – now – let me present my Leftover Vegan Meatloaf Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Mississippi Come Back Sauce!
Mississippi Come Back Sauce is, basically, a homemade vegan & spicy Thousand Island – not unlike the Delta Dipping Sauce I presented in my Spicy Southern Fried Cauliflower and Delta Dipping Sauce with Smashed Baked Potatoes and White Gravy and Buffalo Mac & Cheese – seen above. This recipe makes quite a bit but it should keep in the fridge for a week so you can use it on other things – like a dip for tater tots, on burgers or tacos – even a salad dressing.
Mississippi Come Back Sauce
1/4 cup vegan mayo
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS Dijon
1-2 TBS sriracha
1 TBS vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 cup onion – minced
2 garlic cloves – minced
S&P to taste
Blend & chill.
Leftover Vegan Meatloaf Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Mississippi Come Back Sauce
Feeds as many as you like – depending on the amount of leftovers you have. Here are the ingredients I used:
Leftover vegan meatloaf
Jewish rye bread
Mississippi Come Back Sauce (recipe above)
Vegan cheese (I used Lisanatti mozzarella)
Make like you would make any grilled cheese. Butter the bread on one side & place it in a frying pan on medium heat. Top with the other ingredients & put another slice of bread on top – buttered side up. Turn a few times – pressing the sandwich with the cover of a pan to help heat it through – until the bread is golden to your taste & the cheese is at least pretending to wilt.