June 27, 2011

"Cheeses" - some milk-free options

Vegan cheese makes good pizza possible for milk-allergic families.

If you're a milk-allergic family, you know how tricky it is to make meals without cheese.  Typical kid favorites like pizza and macaroni & cheese aren't exciting options without gooey, salty melted cheese.  Lucky for us, food habits are changing and there are companies producing alternatives to traditional cheese.  But with so many food products on market shelves, it can be daunting to sift through all the choices for a safe and tasty cheese alternative.

A big problem I have is over the confusion brought on by the widely available "soy cheese".  With so many soy replacements for milk products these days (soy milk, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soy creamer to name a few), "soy cheese" sounds like it must be made from soy and it is -- mostly.  Soy cheeses, which often advertises themselves as "lactose-free" are mainly for people with lactose intolerance, a difficulty in breaking down lactase found in milk.  Soy cheese such as Galaxy Foods' actually still contains milk products in the form of casein (whey), which is not safe for anyone with milk allergies.  The same goes for "rice cheese" -- it still contains milk products.

Unless your cheese alternative says "milk-free", "dairy-free" or "vegan" on it, it probably has some element of milk in it.  All the more reason to continue checking and rechecking those labels!

Here are a couple of vegan cheese alternatives worth your attention:

Vegan Gourmet -contains soy but free of the other top food allergens (milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish) 
Follow Your Heart vegan cheeses are sold by Vegan Gourmet, a company that also makes the egg-free mayo Vegenaise.  Flavors include the mozzarella, Monterey Jack, cheddar, and nacho cheddar.

Follow Your Heart/Vegan Gourmet vegan cheeses come in a big, soft block so you'll have to cut them into smaller pieces.  It's not too hard to do with a butter knife but it takes a little time.  And you probably won't get the lovely thin shreds you would from a bag of store-bought shredded cheese.

The kids and I like the Vegan Gourmet mozzarella.  In the past, I've had trouble with the stuff melting properly.  So this time I spent a little more time cutting the block into small strips (think shredded cheese).  The cheese melted better than I expected in a high heat oven for homemade pizza, in our case.  The taste was pretty good.  We were less thrilled by the cheddars which had an overpowering flavor.  I have to say, though, that I don't like sharp or bold cheeses so this might be the reason I wasn't a fan of Follow Your Heart's cheddar version.

I have found Vegan Gourmet vegan cheese at Raley's and Nob Hill Foods for about $5 for a 10 oz. block ($4.50 on sale!).  Not a bad price for a cheese alternative if you're willing to put in the extra time to shred them yourself.

Daiya -free of the top 8 food allergens
Daiya Vegan Shreds is the gold standard of fake cheeses among vegans.  It is free of the top 8 allergens, including milk, gluten, and soy.  Originally sold exclusively to restaurants and food service companies, Daiya has gradually made its way into the hearts, minds, and bellies of milk-allergic and vegan eaters through Whole Foods Markets and a select few natural foods store.  It looks like real shredded cheese, the taste is a pretty good imitation of real cheese, and it melts really well.
Daiya comes in convenient shredded form.

All that perfection doesn't come without a price.  Daiya is not cheap.  Whole Foods sells it for about $11/lb.  I haven't been able to find Daiya at any major supermarket chain so Whole Foods or your local natural foods stores, all pricey I'm sure, might be your only choices.

Do you have a favorite milk-free cheese?  Let us know especially if it's not one of the above. 

1 comment:

  1. Even better -- I found Vegan Gourmet cheese at Whole Foods for $4 a package!