The cheaper ones are better, IMHO.
Ten years ago, vegan cheeses were awful. I remember trying a hideous brand called Teese (now defunct) and thinking I could never be vegan if I had to eat cheese that tasted like that. (I was a long-time vegetarian at the time.)
A few years ago, as I started moving toward veganism myself, the vegan food industry underwent an udderly mooooving evolution itself. (Too many cow puns? Too bad.)
First on the scene was Daiya, which remains one of the more popular vegan cheeses to date, for reasons that elude me.
I remember the first time I tasted Daiya. It didn?t taste anything like real cheese, but it did taste oddly familiar. I couldn?t quite place it, so I took a few more bites ? and then, I had a very strong memory of loading up a plate at the Bonanza all-you-can-eat-slop restaurant my parents loved when I was a kid. The salty cubes of ham. The tasteless mashed potatoes. The gloppy mac and cheese.
Oh, and the shredded ?cheese? you could add to a salad or anything else you thought needed more flavor. THAT was what Daiya reminded me of, that weird, plasticky, not-quite-right flavor of ?cheese.? I never thought much about it at the time (I was raised an omnivore), probably because nothing in that shithole of a ?restaurant? ever tasted right/good to me. (I hate all-you-can-eat dumps with a passion. There is never anything that I want to eat a lot of, or even a little of, on those sad buffet lines.)
It hit me then what had probably happened. I can?t prove it, but that flavor was very familiar, so here?s my theory: What I thought was cheese as a child in the nineties was actually vegan, and had I looked closely at the label, it probably would have said, ?cheddar-flavored shreds? or something else designed to bamboozle customers into thinking they were eating real cheese. Bonanza and a lot of other all-you-can-eat slophouses went out of businesses or reduced their orders during the economic crisis of the oughts. Whoever owned the fake cheese patent saw an opportunity with the rising popularity of vegan food and rebranded as a vegan cheese.
Anyway, Daiya is gross. Their cream cheese is particularly bad, cursed with a weird aftertaste that in no way resembles either real cream cheese, or anything I want to taste. Their shredded cheese in tolerable in small amounts and melted into something else. But I wouldn?t call it good. It is one of the cheaper brands, which may be why so many people buy it over better brands?
I will say one good thing about Daiya: Despite its cheese products being disgusting, the company somehow makes a box of mac and cheese with ?cheez? sauce that tastes good. I don?t know how they manage to do for the cheez sauce what they can?t for their other products, but they do. Their chocolate cheezecake is pretty good too, but wait for a sale when you can get it for five bucks, because it?s tiny.
One brand I really like is Follow Your Heart, which is delicious, but unfortunately it?s really fucking expensive.
Yep, $5.49 for American cheese slices. To be fair, the American and provolone are among the better vegan cheeses I?ve eaten. Their Pizzeria blend of shredded cheese is also wonderful (and far superior to the cheddar or mozzarella shreds, which are okay but forgettable). No weird aftertaste here. Their cream cheese is also the vest vegan cream cheese I?ve tasted so far ? no weird aftertaste! Actually tastes like cream cheese. (The only other good vegan cream cheese I?ve tried is the one you can get at Aldi?s for $2.99, about half the price of FYH. Unfortunately my local Aldi?s stopped carrying it.)
Anyway, I love FYH but only buy it when it?s on clearance because it?s about to expire. (One nice thing about vegan dairy substitutes ? as long as it?s refrigerated, it stays good for weeks after expiration, in my personal experience. I?m currently eating some Kite Hill yogurt that expired a month ago and it still tastes fine.)
That brings us to Kite Hill?s cheese products, which are even higher priced than FYH. They have a vegan cream cheese that costs six dollars and is not that great. However, I do like their yogurt products, but again, only buy on clearance.
I got some Tree Line cheese on clearance as well. This is another one with a weird aftertaste I couldn?t stand, although I know other vegans who like it a lot.
So what?s the best vegan cheese I?ve found at Whole Foods? Surprisingly, it?s the reasonably-priced Whole Foods 365 line.
Whole Foods? 365 brand smoked gouda
The cheddar slices are the first vegan cheese I would happily eat the slices all by themselves like I would dairy cheese in the past. At one point, I was looking for the mozzarella shreds after a friend?s children made me the most delicious vegan pizza with them. The store was out, having massively underestimated demand for the new 365 line of vegan cheeses. I asked someone who worked there if he thought the gouda would work on pizza, as I?d never eaten dairy gouda and didn?t know what it was supposed to taste like. He said he thought the smoky flavor would be good on a pizza. It is. It is so good on pizza, as well as in lasagnas.
Vegan Pizza with 365 Smoked GoudaVegan Lasagna with 365 Smoked gouda and clearance-priced Kite Hill Ricotta
Best of all, the 365 line is relatively cheap, close in price to Daiya but far, far better in terms of flavor.
Amazingly, this is one of those rare instances where cheaper is better.
Disclaimer: Neither Whole Foods nor any other brand here paid me to review their products or gave me any free products. I wish they had, because I could really use the money, and everyone is welcome to contribute to my Patreon, but sadly, no one has paid me for my humble opinions here.