Friday, August 31, 2012

Daiya vs Vegan Gourmet Dairy Free / Vegan Cheeses

I’ve been dairy free for over 20 years now. I had tried DF cheeses in the past and found them terrible. They all suffer from at least one of three problems: 1) they were lactose free not dairy free*, 2) they didn’t melt, 3) their taste and texture when not melted is terrible. (* most alternative cheeses still contain casein (the protein found in milk). I assume this helps them melt as those without it tended not to.)

Vegan Gourmet Dairy Free Cheddar Cheese
A couple years ago, I decided to try an Amy’s Gluten Free Dairy Free Spinach Pizza. The instructions include a couple minutes at the very end under the broiler. The pizza came out great and a light bulb went off in my head. Perhaps that was the secret to getting casein-free non-dairy cheese to melt.

I bought a block of Vegan Gourmet and gave it a shot and . . . it worked beautifully! I did originally slice the cheese but have found it is much better/easier to shred it (by hand or in a food processor). Warning: if the cheese is layered too thickly the bottom will liquefy and not melt properly, you need a thin layer exposed to the broiler.

I also found a hint online to microwave the cheese on high, 30 seconds at a time, until it melts. I recommend cutting it up as small as possible first and mixing/stirring as you go so it doesn’t separate out. This allows you to use the cheese as a topping without having to broil whatever it is on. The downside to this tip is that the cheese re-hardens quite quickly and then doesn’t really re-melt so you have to work super fast.

Daiya Dairy Free Havarti Cheese Shreds
Vegan Gourmet comes in four flavors: Mozzarella, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Nacho. I really wouldn’t eat it cold or expect it to melt without broiling or constant stirring (it separates out otherwise).

In the last two years, I started to see Daiya Dairy free Cheese shreds showing up in supermarkets and even a handful of restaurants. It claims to melt like cheese but I found that while it melts better than the Vegan Gourmet it still isn’t the same as dairy cheese. It comes pre-shredded which saves a step but, I found it doesn’t microwave well (although Amy’s GF/DF Mac and Cheese uses Daiya and it microwaves up perfectly). It is also extremely sticky, sticking to bowls, plates, utensils anything it comes in contact with while in its melty form.

Daiya comes in three flavors: Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Pepper Jack. It is passable cold but is much better eaten hot/melty. The real advantage it has over Vegan Gourmet is that it is both vegan and soy free.

Daiya Dairy Free Cheese Wedges (cubed)
Daiya also has launched dairy free cheese wedges (Cheddar, Mozzarella, Havarti). These small blocks of cheese are perfect for cubing up for a salad or cheese platter and capture both the taste and texture of cheese. In all the DF cheeses I’ve ever had they are the first to accomplish this! I have not yet tried cooking with these.

In the end, I think Vegan Gourmet is slightly better. As long as you follow the steps above it melts fine. Daiya is a close second however so if you can’t have soy or can’t find Vegan Gourmet it is a ready alternative.

One final thought: actual dairy based cheese is high in protein and calcium while these non-dairy substitutes are not. I use them as a garnish/to add flavor not for their nutritional content (or more accurately lack thereof)!

Dairy Free Recipes using these cheese replacements:

Dairy Free Lasagna (vegan)

Dairy Free Baked Ziti (vegan)


  1. I myself us Daiya, mostly because I can't have soy, and I really enjoy the Daiya. I have mostly used the shreds and I use them in everything from nachos, to spagetti dinners. I find if you cook the Daiya on low heat with a bit of rice milk on the stove it melts just like regular cheese, and makes a fantastic cheese sauce.

    1. Cool tip, thanks! I'll have to give that a try next time I want mac and cheese.


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