Thursday, April 01, 2010

Product Review: Daiya vegan cheese. Do not be afraid!

I LOVE real cheese.  Grilled cheese sandwiches are a gift from the universe...a brie and butter sandwich I once had in Paris almost made me cry, it was so good. Tragically, I discovered my dairy allergy only a few months after a friend shared her mad skills from her job at the Beverly Hills Cheese store (the Disneyland of cheeses for Southern California).  I'll admit upfront, I've been suspicious of soy cheese, rice cheese, almond cheese, nut cheese, cheese food, cheese replacements and raw or vegan cheese (I'm starting to sound like Monty Python so I'll stop) ever since they came into existence. All the reviews I've ever read, including personal opinions from my veggie friends, confirmed that they were pretty lame excuses for cheese, and lovingly warned me off them. So I didn't bother. A particularly vivid bad food memory on the same subject happened years ago when I sat next to my coworker (a healthy marathon runner) during lunch.  She enthusiastically bit into a slice of soy cheese only to cringe, freeze, then bolt to the kitchen to huck it out of her mouth. It was SO bad (how bad was it?) that when she returned she madly began scraping her tongue off with a napkin to get the taste out of her mouth. It left an impression.

Since then, I made a heartfelt vow of "no cheese unless it's real".  And have been perfectly fine with that.

Last year, I was working on a recipe that needed some cheese love, so I tippy-toed out of my self-made box to make an enthusiastically-described vegan "cheese spread" using nutritional yeast (a standard cheese replacement in much vegan cookery).  Nutritional yeast comes in bright orange dehydrated flakes, and is described as having a "cheese-like" taste.  I made the sauce, tasted it, then made an unattractive "gack" sound.  It was bitter, smelly, and just plain nasty so into the trash it went. Ugh.  Back into my non-cheese cave, disappointed yet again.

Then I heard from my allergy pal Alisa at last summer that there was Daiya vegan cheese, which was made from tapioca starch.  Hm. Tapioca has a gelatinous texture and a mild taste, so I thought it might actually work.  It was delicious! Pre-shredded, Daiya looks, smells and tastes like real mild dairy cheese.  At that time it was only available online, and because it required overnight shipping/refrigeration it was PRICEY.  It was not available in retail stores yet, so I was waiting for their distribution to improve before posting about it, and now that day is here!  Click here Where to enjoy Daiya in the US and Canada!  By the way, they don't have retail packaging yet, at least at my Whole Foods they don't, WF is repackaging it in generic, non-descript store containers.  Daiya should be near the refrigerated soy and other alternative cheeses.

Daiya vegan cheese is based on tapioca starch and arrowroot, and is FREE of common allergens such as  "Soy, Casein, Lactose, Gluten, Egg, Wheat, Barley, Corn, Whey, Rice, and Nuts".  Here's the official ingredient list:
Purified 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, vegetable glycerin, natural flavors (derived from plants), xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin, vegan enzymes (no animal rennet or animal enzymes), vegan bacterial cultures, citric acid (for flavor), annatto.
It tastes great!  It melts!  It broils! It doesn't have a weird aftertaste!  There are two varieties: cheddar and Italian blend which is like mozzarella -- they're both mild in flavor so those of you who love strong, stinky cheeses are out of luck, but these will do for most general cheese uses.  My days now have cheese omelets and nachos in them, la!  Daiya is also selling their product to the food industry, so there are pizza restaurants using Daiya, and some manufacturers like Amy's Kitchen are making gluten-free dairy-free pizza and mac and cheese with it. Cool.

I decided to see how it performed beyond just as a topping, so whipped up a cheese sauce and used it as a dip for turkey strips and on top of steamed cauliflower.  This cheese sauce can be thinned and also be used to make mac and cheese, folks!  This recipe is based on the classic bechamel, or French white sauce.  I used tapioca starch instead of flour used in the traditional recipe.  Try to use the best butter substitute you can here, it will impact the flavor.  Have everything measured out and ready before you start, as this only takes a few minutes to make!

Thick Cheese Sauce
Makes approx 1-1/4 cup

1 Tablespoon best-quality butter substitute of your choice (margarine, Earth Balance, coconut oil,  a buttery French or Spanish olive oil, canola oil)
2-1/2 Tablespoons tapioca starch
1 cup milk substitute of your choice (soy, rice, almond, oat)
1/2 cup Daiya cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg

1. In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the butter substitute (or warm it if it's oil).  Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and whisk thoroughly to incorporate and form a paste.
2.  Spread out the paste on the bottom of the pan, and cook it for a few minutes so that it bubbles a little, and cooks any raw taste out of the starch.
3. While whisking, pour in milk substitute a little at a time,  so that you don't create lumps.
4. When all the milk substitute is incorporated, add in the cheese a little at a time, whisking until melted and smooth.
5. Salt and pepper to taste, finish with a dash of nutmeg.  Serve.

When this cools, it will congeal to be pretty thick but it reheats just fine.  You can also thin it out with more milk substitute to suit your needs, but remember to correct the seasoning again.

Once you have cheese again in your life after a long absence, it calls for a little happy dance.  Go ahead, I won't look.


Sandi said...

Thanks, Kishari! I might just try it!!

Kytriya said...

Problem with Xanthan Gum: It IS made ON Corn Syrup, so DOES contain traces of Corn, and those with severe corn allergies DO react. Sorry! :D

I was hoping Daiyan could make a Corn Free, Vinegar free, mustard free, Gluten Free cheese so I could recommend them on my own website for Vegans like me, but have Corn Allergies too. :P Xanthan Gum can be grown on Molasses, but this is very rarely done. Corn is much cheaper.

I'm hoping to try Daiyan cheese next week, after making a trip to Whole Foods Market! I'm also hoping they come out with a non-shredded version (as long as it remains Vinegar free. LOL)

Anonymous said...

I also heard cheezly is really good...i want to go vegan after seeing
I've been vegitarian since seeing

Aaron said...

Daiya comes shredded and non-shredded. You can buy it in bricks if you're willing to pay more (it's always been more expensive this way as far as I have seen).

But Daiya should not be feared. I've tried almost every fake cheese product since I found out I was lactose intolerant and while they are generally awful, Daiya is the closest to real cheese I have found. That being said, I don't recommend eating it on crackers, but it works excellent in cooking.

I've made pizzas and grilled cheese with it (a make or break for fake cheeses) and it holds up.

You can also make mac n' cheese using more traditional cheese sauce recipes with just 'milk', 'butter', Daiya, and flour.

A great product, and you can also freeze it. I keep shreds in my freezer at all times. You can easily break off what you need without having to thaw and use it all.

Marisel said...

I love, love love Daiya. It is the best vegan cheese out there. I posted a while back about how much I loved it if you want to get another review of this awesome stuff.

Donna said...

Thanks for the recipe...probably makes a great nacho type sauce...must try!