Despite being an omnivore, I love vegan and vegetarian food. Done well, tofu is easily among my favorite foods. A good veggie burger, loaded with avocado and grilled onions hits the spot on a hot summer afternoon and Pad See Yew with vegetables with a glass of wine makes for perfect food for an evening of TV watching.
But there is one vegan food I’ve never warmed up to – vegan cheese or cheeze if you prefer. I’ve sampled several varieties including Teese from the Chicago Soy Dairy and even made my own Colby Cheeze from the Uncheese Cookbook. While I appreciate that my vegan friends have many dairy-free cheeses to choose from, most of them strike me as the vegan equivalent of Velveeta or block mozzarella – great for melting over enchiladas or a pizza loaded for veggies, but hardly anything you’d serve up on a cheese tray with a cluster of grapes and some crusty bread.
Enter Dr-Cow Natural Living & Organic Foods, maker of artisan vegan cheeses. I originally heard about them from the lovely Hannah of Bittersweet Blog and recently got the opportunity to sample their products. What makes Dr-Cow unique is that their vegan cheeses are made using similar techniques to artisan dairy cheeses. According to their website, they make their cheeses by starting with raw nut and seeds which get mixed with their home-made acidophilus and a little royal pink himalayan salt. And from there, they essentially make a nut curd that then gets turned into cheese. Their simple ingredient list means their cheeses are made without any preservatives, stabilizers, artificial ingredients or additives of any kind. In other words, the vegan equivalent of Velveeta these cheeses are not.
Of course, none of this means anything if they don’t taste good, right? I dove right in to sample and see. Dr-Cow makes seven aged nut cheeses and one fresh nut cream cheese. Generally when trying dairy-based cheeses fresh cheeses are a great place to start since they tend to have a milder flavor than aged and can give you a sense of what to expect from the rest of the line. Accordingly I started there when trying these vegan cheeses as well.
Overall, I was intrigued by this cheese from the first bite. It wasn’t what I expected, and I mean that in a good way. Dairy cream cheeses are often quiet and unassuming. This one was neither. It had a pleasant almost yogurt-like tang to it and understandably, a savory, nutty flavor. (Though I actually found that to me, this cheese tasted almost more like brazil nuts than cashews.) The texture was pretty creamy with just the slightest hint of graininess from the nuts. I enjoyed eating it straight from the spoon, but also wanted to see how it would hold up in cooking so I set to make a simple pizza.
I topped some homemade 100% whole wheat dough with some greens…
…and thinly sliced crisp apple.
Clearly I have been channeling the season as apple has been showing up often in my cooking lately. I generally love how well it’s crispness cuts through the richness of cheese and figured would marry well with the Dr-Cow cheese, which I added in generous dollops along with slowly caramelized onions.
Because seriously, what savory dish isn’t better with caramelized onions? I also added a sprinkling of pecans, because I figured their nuttiness would pair well with the nutty flavors in the cheese. I baked pizza at 400 degrees F until the crust was pleasantly crunchy, the apples soft, and the cheese lightly browned on the outside and warm in the middle.
The cheese performed pretty well when baked. It seemed to me like it would be a great substitution for a dollop of ricotta or mascarpone on the pizza. The creaminess and tang of the cheese complimented the other ingredients well and overall it made for a delicious pizza. That said, the cheese doesn’t melt under high temperatures (It actually maintained the dollop shapes made from my scoop without oozing in the slightest.) so if this is a desired quality of your vegan cheese you might want to look elsewhere.
Overall I was impressed and it left me eager to try Dr-Cow’s aged cheeses like their Aged Macadamia & Hemp Cheese, which they describe as “creamy but firm, sharp, goat-like.” My reviews of the rest of their line are to come, but in the meantime I’m curious to hear from you.
Have you tried vegan cheeses yourself and if so, what is your favorite?
(Note that I did receive samples of the Dr-Cow products but the opinions and recipe shared in this post are my own.)