Pizza. We love pizza, and homemade pizza especially. I have many recipes for pizza dough, or you can get frozen dough in many supermarkets. The pizzas come together in about the same time as getting one delivered, and they taste so much better. Everyone gets what they want: all white for one, tomato and cheese for another, I like thin eggplant and mushrooms. But the key ingredient is cheese. And hence, for vegans, a problem.
I am looking forward to cheese made from Perfect Day dairy, but until then, vegan pizzas are either cheeseless or made with plant-based cheese. I have tried Daiya before (their cheese is kosher but not their frozen pizza), but felt it had the look without the taste of cheese. So I resolved to try several brands that I have heard people rave about and see how they fared. I talked my family into helping and made a bunch of mini pizzas, identical except for the cheese.
Follow Your Heart (FYH) is known for its egg-free mayonnaise and salad dressings, as well as a full line of cheeses. FYH was recently acquired by Danone. I found coconut oil-based Mozzarella slices in my local market and used them, cut into grated-sized pieces for this test. They also make two-types of blocks and two-types of pre-shredded cheese which all have different ingredients, using different oils and other added flavorings, that are made in a different facility. I did not try those so please keep that in mind since the results may be different (look for a future article). All combine oils with water and starches (potato and corn).
I have heard people discussing Violife for a while, and know it is used in a number of vegan restaurants. It is available in Israel as well as the US (the full product line there is slightly different than the US items). Their Mozzarella is available shredded. Based on the ingredients, I suspect that this may be the same as the Follow Your Heart slices.
Both Violife and the FYH slices are under the Balkan Kosher supervision, which is a Chabad affiliate in Greece (other FYH cheeses are under Kof-K and Violife in Israel is under the Badatz Beit Yosef.
The third item we tried was one I have heard much discussion about. Miyoko’s creamery makes acclaimed butter and cheeses under the supervision of Kof-K. The mozzarella we tried was in block form, very soft with a texture between a fresh mozzarella and cream cheese. Its primary ingredient is cashews and unlike the other cheeses, it is cultured. We also tried this one in a caprese salad. It is also available in Israel, imported from the US.
Caveats: slices, shreds and blocks have different textures, even for real dairy cheeses, so that must be noted, and FYH makes different products and we only tried one. We only used them for pizza and just in our family. We look forward to trying these and others in other recipes where they may perform better.
Both FYH and Violife fared similarly, not surprisingly. Neither melted well, and both had textures described as sticky, gummy, gluey, starchy, and creamy. The flavor was described as sharp, goat cheese-like, sour, and similar to Italian hard cheese. No one really liked it. I also tried the slices in a sandwich, but found they had an off, sour taste not to my liking.
Miyokos fared a little better, melting well but still starchy. One felt it was gluey, but others said it was more crumbly and slimy. The taste was more savory to one taster, with another calling it unpleasant and the third describing it as bland and indistinct.
A control using a local brand of shredded dairy mozzarella fared better with everyone preferring it over the vegan options.
In the caprese salad, it was described as too soft without any chew, although the mild flavor was not bad (but not great) paired with the basil, tomato and oil. It might work well in other applications. [edit: since initially writing this, I have been eating the Miyoko’s fresh mozzarella with pesto, and while it is missing the creamy richness and stretchy texture of dairy cheese, it does make a tasty snack.]
Cheese is a very complex product and it is really difficult to replicate the taste and mouthfeel of dairy cheese. My approach is not to expect an exact duplicate, but rather a product that performs well in terms of texture and has a taste that complements the other items.
At this point, I would rather make a vegan pizza without a cheese substitute. However there are a number of other companies out there making mozzarella and other cheeses that could be used for pizza, baked ziti, or salads, so I am not ready to give up. Some of the cream cheeses and Boursin-type cheese spreads are quite good, and I had a nut-based brie once that was delicious. Look for further experiments and taste tests.
Michael Rogovin is the Publisher of MipiKale