Gourmet dairy-free cheeses: Kite Hill Soft Fresh Original and Soft Ripened.
Most Thursdays or Fridays is pizza night around here. Armed with our cast iron skillets and Whole Foods ball o’ pizza dough, my boyfriend and I create our own versions of pizza faves. His usually includes fresh mozzarella and some sort of turkey pepperoni, while mine is loaded up on veggies and whatever vegan version of cheese I’m interested in creating that week. Sometimes it’s a cashew or almond nut cheese, sometimes a simple mix of tofu and nutritional yeast, and only very occasionally a store-bought vegan cheese such as Daiya mozzarella shreds. The first time I had Daiya “cheese” was at a nearby restaurant that sold only vegan pizzas. It was pretty exciting to have something close to cheese at the time, but since then, I’ve realized I’m not a big fan of most nondairy cheeses. (The tofu cream cheeses you can get at most NYC bagel shops and at a couple places around Boston are the major exceptions.)
Soft Fresh Original on left; on right is the Soft Ripened-Brie-style, which comes wrapped in a wood-style round box
The problem is that most of the readily available nondairy cheeses are a mix of ingredients like tapioca flours and oils, they’re quite processed, and, well, they taste like it. I’m glad they exist but like I said, eating them is a rarity. For many people who eat a vegan or plant-based diet, cheese is pretty much the last frontier. Hands down, it’s the thing I miss the most, and last week I had a wicked craving that had me vowing to finally order some Miyoko’s Kitchen artisanal cheese from California, which is the only cheese I’ve heard about that’s supposed to rival the real thing. The only problem was that I wanted something now. So after researching a bit, it turns out that there’s a whole vegan cheese revolution going on, well, at least the start of one, with a number of companies creating game-changing vegan cheese. And one of those gourmet nondairy cheese companies, Kite Hill, is widely distributed to Whole Foods across the country. In other words, there’s been an artisanal vegan cheese option right under my nose and I didn’t even know it! So, to the store I went for the second time that day, where I picked up two of the Kite Hill flavors: the Soft Fresh Original, which I’ve seen compared to a farmer cheese or basket cheese, and the Soft Ripened, aka, vegan brie.
Soft Fresh Original on left; Soft Ripened/Brie-style on right
Tastewise: They were both absolutely thrilling. Unlike most nondairy cheeses, the Kite Hill cheeses have just a few ingredients and are made using traditional cheese-making techniques. The company first transforms almond milk into curds and whey, then cultures and ferments the curds. According to the site, the two I bought are aged as well, though I’m guessing the Soft Ripened/Brie-style is for longer. The Brie-style flavor even has a rind just like its dairy counterpart. But these plant-based cheeses don’t just look good, they taste so much better than anything else I’ve purchased ready-made.
The Soft Fresh Original has a sort of tangy flavor and what I think of as a stinky quality (light, but in that yummy cheese way). It is absolutely delicious mixed with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder spread on sourdough and topped with vine-ripened tomato slices. The Soft Ripened/Brie-style tastes very close to what I remember Brie to taste, so you could pretty much do anything you’d have done with Brie. (My favorite used to be Brie and grape quesadillas.)
An assortment of mini pizzas topped with either the Original or Soft Ripened
So back to pizza night…Neither cheese seemed 100% appropriate as a pizza cheese, and I didn’t think you’re really supposed to cook with them (though after that night I read the FAQs and you can). Anyway, I decided to create four mini pizzas and test different toppings. I carmelized some onions, and had that and (on different ones) olives, fig jam, and arugula and did different cheeses on them. One I made more traditional (tomato sauce, etc.). I cooked the pizzas then put the arugula and cheese on at the very end, so they were just warmed. They were all delicious, and definitely satisfied my cheese craving.
Of course, these vegan cheeses would be appropriate for someone with a dairy intolerance as well. I’m not promising they will 100% satisfy if you’re a dairy cheese eater. I’ll have to test that at some point with some willing participants (i.e., someone more adventurous than my aforementioned boyfriend), but I bet the satisfaction comes close.
Kite Hill has other cheeses—a truffle dill and chive, a ricotta, and a couple cream cheeses—and they have a couple ravioli options. I won’t likely be exploring vegan cheese every day, but I am definitely going to broaden my tastes in this category. In the future, I’ll try the other Kite Hill flavors, for sure. I’ll also order some of the Miyoko’s cheeses at some point as well (check out the beautiful photos). The Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf is sold out right now, but that’s what I have my eye on. And I will definitely look into some other brands I discovered in this research (such as Punk Rawk Labs, which is based in Minnesota, not California like Kite Hill and Miyoko’s). It’s just nice that people who can’t or don’t eat dairy cheeses are getting some options!
Below I’m including some links to other taste tests and articles on the new vegan cheeses, some of which mention other companies. If, like me, you haven’t heard of this brave new world of delectability, do take a look!