Veggie Girl: On Vegan Cheese

Veggie Girl: On Vegan Cheese

(Not a fairytale. More like a Greek tragedy.)

I've spent my fair share of time in fun non-office jobs, such as ski instructor, whitewater rafting guide, sea kayak instructor, vegetable farmer, etc. So I feel I'm qualified to make this call: An office is a truly wonderful place.

For one thing, you can read "Dilbert" or watch Office Space without having to do the fake, um-yeah-I-totally-get-it laugh. You can really laugh, because you actually know what it's like to have the copier break down and host emergency gossip conferences in the bathroom (or do only women do that?) or fight that girl with the Lean Cuisine for the microwave at 1 p.m. If you happen to work in the office of a company that produces newspapers, you can also engage in endless, heated rubber-band wars and other activities some people consider juvenile.

But the best aspect of being in an office is the Food Share.

It's usually a mixed bag: Mexican food, fried chicken, bagels, cupcakes, cookies and such. But communal office food rarely approaches even a guise of being healthy--and it's almost invariably high-fat. The point is to share...which is exactly what I did with my samples of vegan cheese.

"Vegan cheese tasting!!!" I announced in an e-mail. To my surprise, my co-workers came (well, some of them). To their surprise--and chagrin--there was no "control group" (read: chaser) of real cheese. The point of the tasting was to try Galaxy Foods' new Rice Vegan fake cheese-"The Tastiest Vegan in the Galaxy," according to their press release-and compare it to what's already on the market.

We sampled the following...
Rice Vegan in Pepper Jack, Cheddar and American Flavors (Galaxy Nutritional Foods)
"The Original" Almond® in Cheddar Style (Lisanatti)
Soya Kaas in American Cheddar

...And got these results:
The Almond cheddar, made with crushed organic almonds and canola oil, was the only one that didn't come in a package of individually-wrapped slices. The squishy, reddish-orange block looked better inside the package than out; according to Merritt, it was "too easily sliced and therefore suspicious. But not offensive." Really, it tastes just fine--although it contains both casein (milk protein) and lactic acid, so I kind of think it should have been a better product. But the texture is a little off. And when I melted it in the microwave, it stuck to my teeth, the fork, the plate, everything. Remember that "Bodies," where human bodies were injected with this stuff to turn them solid via plastination? It is like that.

The Rice Vegan Pepper Jack has by far the best flavor, mostly because it isn't trying to taste like cheese at all. It could be (and was) compared to the cornmeal in a tamale: grainy-smooth and nicely spiced. Unfortunately, upon melting it turned weird, too, acquiring the stickiness of Crazy Glue.

Well, two products for the price of one, right?

The most cheese-like of any of the samples are the ones designed to taste like American cheese. I have a theory about this: Since American is the most artificial of all cheeses, vegan cheese should attempt to imitate this style.

That's right, vegan cheese makers: Stick to American. Or, as Merritt put it, "American isn't 'cheese' anyway so there's no real issue here."

From what I remember of American cheese, the Soya Kaas slices are the real fake thing. They are smooth, creamy and melt just like orange cheese on a burger. They have that singular, yummy-plastic taste of true American cheese. The Rice Vegan American slices run a close second, as far as taste and texture were concerned. In my book, however, they win because Soya Kaas contains casein and lactic acid. The Rice Vegan stuff is everything-free: no casein, no lactose, no soy, no gluten. I guess when you consider it as such, it's not all that bad.

Then again, I'd rather just eat rice and beans.


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