This year, Dublin was voted the most vegan-friendly city in the world; with a growing number of cafés and restaurants now offering plant-based milk and meat substitutes, this comes as no surprise.
In case you or your loved ones are planning on celebrating a vegan Christmas this year, we’re sharing our insights on one of the hardest-to-replace parts of a vegan diet: cheese.
If you’ve never heard of vegan cheeses, then you’re in for quite the education. If you’re wondering how on earth cheese can be vegan, you’re not wrong – technically, there’s no such thing. However, in an attempt to replace this common component of the average diet, many tasty substitutes have been created – some quite similar to cheese, and others not at all equivalent, but perhaps pleasant in some other way.
Vegan cheeses tend to come in two varieties. One type is fairly processed, consisting of modified starch, coconut oils and flavourings; these products tend to most accurately mimic the consistency and flavour of heavily processed cheese and as such may be more familiar to the average consumer.
Type two is artisanal cultured vegan cheeses, usually a combination of ground nuts, oil, a sugar substitute and a culture that binds them. Often heavily flavoured, these fake cheeses tend to be less like real cheese and more like a protein-rich block reminiscent of a dip, but in solid form – often tasty, and appealing to the environmentally-conscious palate.
Being the true foodies that we are, we decided to put these ‘cheeses’ to the test and see if any of them could stand up and earn their place on a non-vegan cheeseboard. We hunted down every vegan cheese we could find in the outer Dublin area and – after much hilarity and many varied facial expressions – here is what we found…
Our top 4 vegan ‘cheeses’ worthy of a cheeseboard
#1 Mihu’s Alternative Cheeze – smoked paprika
This block isn’t trying too hard to be cheese, and the owners of Mihu’s themselves claim that over 80% of the people who buy their nut-based cultured wheels are not actually vegan, they simply like the flavour. This is a must for any vegan cheese selection, as its heavy flavouring and consistency make it interesting for any palate.
#2 Violife Smoked Cheddar Block
The food team were inclined to give this cheese an easy passage onto our vegan cheeseboard, saying that it’s just like any processed cheese you’d find on a burger at a festival or on loaded fries from a food truck. The smokey flavour gives it a lift and its creamy and cheese-like texture makes it a solid contender for any vegan cheeseboard.
#3 Mihu’s Alternative Cheeze – pesto wheel
Similar to its cousin the smoked paprika block, this is a heavily flavoured cultured nut ‘cheese’ and, it tastes like a cashew-based, pesto-flavoured block of dip. We found this one quite delicious, and an acceptable option for everyone from the average cheese lover to vegans themselves.
We wouldn’t recommend this wheel to the avid cheese lover, despite its very convincing aesthetic. We would, however, include this as an addition on a board designed for a fully fledged vegan palate (and one that used to have a penchant for mild tasting Brie). If you are serving up this little wheel, we’d definitely recommend making sure it’s at room temperature – and adding a good dose of cranberry jam.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, the team didn’t get to taste this range of Cork-based artisanal cheeses. These nut cultures are fermented for no less than six months, and – having sampled them before – I can attest to their deliciousness. With their unique flavour and high quality production, it’s not surprising that demand is currently exceeding supply, and these products are now being shipped across Europe. Little Green Leaf offers seasonal batches by mail order only, and if you’re a serious vegan cheese connoisseur then we recommend getting in touch.
There are plenty of other varieties of vegan ‘cheeses’ out there, with brands including Follow Your Heart, Happy Cashew, Nutcrafter and many others. Not all of them are board-worthy, however, and some are better suited to other purposes as spreads and melters. We understand that every palate is different, so we recommend trying a few different ones before deciding on your perfect Christmas platter.
For access to our best of Easy Food vegan recipes click here.