Trying vegan cheese this Veganuary

Trying vegan cheese this Veganuary

I should start this blog post off with a disclaimer – I’m not doing Veganuary this month. That would make my job as Queen Brie a little challenging. However, I was really keen to test out some vegan cheeses and non-alcoholic drinks for those that are giving up animal products and booze for January or longer. 

About Veganuary

Veganuary was founded in 2014 by York-based husband and wife couple Jane Land and Matthew Glover. They set up the charity from their kitchen as a way to encourage more people to go vegan for a month and beyond. The campaign has grown substantially, with more than half a million people from over 200 countries giving up animal products in January 2021. 

The Veganuary mission is:

…to inspire and support people to try vegan, drive corporate change, and create a global mass movement championing compassionate food choices with the aim of ending animal farming, protecting the planet, and improving human health.”

I agree that it’s really important to not only cut down on the amount of meat, fish and animal products we consume, but to also buy these from sustainable sources that put the welfare of the animal first. 

This doesn’t mean we all need to make radical changes to make a big difference. Research by plant-based meat company Meatless Farm has revealed that if every household in the UK ate one plant-based meal a week, it would reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million tonnes. The same as getting rid of 16 million cars from our roads.

Vegan cheese

It is fair to say that vegan cheese has been maligned by many. One of the most notable naysayers is comedian and vegan Romesh Ranganathan, who has done a lot of research into the subject. 

“In the past year, I’ve spent more than £1,000 to find a great vegan cheese. I even bought a vegan “world cheeseboard” for Christmas: it was like an international tour of disappointment. There are nut cheeses that taste passable, and even some that taste very good. But the fact is they Do. Not. Taste. Like. Cheese.” 

Not exactly high praise. However I felt I had a duty to investigate the issue and draw my own conclusions on the subject. After doing some research online I found an amazing shop called I AM NUT OK. Their “not cheese” is made by an Italian and American couple based in London. The products are produced by hand in small batches, before being aged and flavoured with herbs and spices.  

I AM NUT OK’s philosophy is:

“We aim to create products that make people’s mouths water. Addictive like cheese, but even better. I AM NUT OK is more daring than dairy, using inventive visual and flavour combinations. It’s not meant to replace cheese, but to satisfy the tastebuds in a way any delicious food does.” 

I ordered four of their bestsellers. Their signature cheese MinerThreat, which has a smoky flavour and is ripened with activated coconut charcoal. This tasted like an applewood smoked cheese, one of my guests said it was a bit like smoky bacon flavoured crisps.

C’e Dairy? which is their take on a cheddar-style vegan cheese. This had the most cheesy flavour, with a taste that was reminiscent of a whipped version of a famous triangle-shaped soft cheese. 

Rigotta, a vegan ricotta-style cheese in garlic oil, which had nice savoury notes and was pungent with garlic. I’ve made some ricotta at home and the texture was very similar to this. 

Meltdown, a bright orange American-style cheese which is good for melting.

The verdict? All the products tasted great, each was distinctive and used bold flavours. The biggest difference is that the texture of all of them was more akin to a spreadable cheese than your standard piece of Cheddar. They’re also great to cook with. I used them to make a vegan cheese vegetable pasta bake and the end result was creamy, rich and decadent. It didn’t feel like you were missing out and I’m sure they’d add bags of flavour to lots of different dishes.

Can they replace a gooey Brie de Meaux, the creamy and umami hit from Stilton or the sharp tang of a mature Cheddar? For me personally, nothing comes close. But if you’re looking to cut down on or give up cheese, for whatever reason, I would urge you to them a try. Each one was very moreish and would make a great addition to any vegan cheeseboard or recipe.

Drinks pairings 

If you’ve also given up the booze or are trying to cut down on alcohol this month, there are some great non-alcoholic drink options to pair with your cheese. I’ve chosen a few of my favourites. 

Apple juice 

Apple and cheese is a classic pairing in its own right. So it would stand to reason that apple juice would match equally as well as a drinks option. I like a cloudy apple juice like Copella, who handpick their seasonal apples. Or for something a little fancier you could opt for a sparkling apple juice. These would go great with soft cheeses with a bloomy rind like Brie, Camembert or, if you’re looking for an amazing British alternative, try Baron Bigod. 

No and low alcohol beer 

If you’re after a beer pairing, there are some seriously great no or low-alcoholic beers on the market. One of my favourites is Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5% which is also vegan. The brewery purchased a de-alcoholiser which allows them to brew their classic 4.5% Ghost Ship beer and then remove the alcohol from it. This means you still get the same great citrus taste but at a much lower ABV. It would pair well with mild and tangy cheeses like Caerphilly, Wensleydale or January’s cheese of the month Cornish Yarg.

Non-alcoholic cocktails

I discovered this amazing drink, the Ginger Switchel from Mother Root, last year and it’s one of my go-to beverages when I’m looking for an non-alcoholic drink that still feels special. It combines pressed ginger juice, apple cider vinegar and orange blossom honey. Serve it over ice with soda or tonic water for a grown-up alcohol-free alternative. An interesting match and great contrast with smoked cheeses. They’ve also just released a Marmalade Switchel which I can’t wait to try. 

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