If there’s anything in the food world that both unites and divides a group of people, it’s cheese. There are the lovers who can’t get enough of gooey camembert and chunks of cheddar, the haters who baulk at any kind of funky smell, and the plant-based or lactose-intolerant gang who look longingly at wooden boards laden with slabs of creamy brie.
Thankfully, the dairy-free dark ages are over, and there are a whole host of brilliant plant-based cheeses out there that claim to be just as flavourful as the real deal.
Honestly Tasty is one such brand. Started in 2018, sibling team Mike and Beth began creating vegan cheeses using modern technology and traditional cheesemaking methods. Their cheeses have won awards, and their vegan blue cheese is particularly acclaimed. Honestly Tasty’s mission is to put taste and enjoyment at the forefront of plant-based eating, so I decided to put this to the test by giving a selection of their best-selling cheeses to the test. But first, let’s do a deep dive into what vegan cheese actually is.
What is vegan cheese made of?
Vegan cheeses can be made with a whole host of different ingredients, but you’ll most commonly find vegan cheese made with soy, nuts like cashews or macadamias, or coconut oil. In fact, some of the best vegan cheeses are made with coconut oil because it reacts to heat in the same way that dairy cheese does.
Both coconut oil and dairy-based cheeses containing casein (a protein found in cow’s milk) are solid at room temperature and melt when heated. So, if you spot coconut oil on the ingredients list of your vegan cheese, this means it’s likely to melt and create that glorious cheese-pull effect.
Vegan cheeses can also contain truffle to create an earthy flavour and other flavourings like garlic and herbs. Some vegan cheese producers also use fermentation techniques to create the funky flavour of blue or rinded cheeses without the usual ripening or maturation.
Is vegan cheese healthy?
The jury’s still out on this one. Some vegan cheeses are considered healthier than dairy-based cheese because they contain less saturated fat. However, vegan cheeses also tend to contain less protein than dairy cheese, which can make them less satisfying and represent less nutritional value in your meal plan.
One of the most common ingredients in vegan cheesemaking is coconut oil, which while may seem like the healthier choice, is actually made from 92% saturated fat (more than lard or butter), according to the British Dietetic Association. Foods high in saturated fat can raise levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol, which can contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy delicious vegan cheeses made with coconut oil in moderation, just as you would a dairy-based cheeseboard.
Vegan cheeses are also commonly made with cashew nuts, which are a source of fibre, protein and healthy fats. However, these cheeses can also contain high levels of sodium and other processed elements like gums, starches and powders to recreate cheese’s unique texture.
Vegan cheeses are typically lower in saturated fat, protein and calcium than regular cheese and are likely gluten-free. Because vegan cheese is a processed food, it tends to be higher in sodium, so do – as always – check the back of the label.
Vegan cheese review
Now, there’s nothing quite like a little (or large) glass of wine with your cheese, so I opted to try the Cheese & Wine For Two set from Honestly Tasty. Everything you need for your wine and cheese-themed night in is delivered straight to your door for £37.50 plus shipping.
The set includes Honestly Tasty’s award-winning Shamembert and Blue as well as their Bree and Garlic & Herb. Every good cheese night needs top-notch crackers, so I was pleased to see a pack of St Peter’s Yard sourdough crackers included in the kit, as well as a caramelised red onion chutney for a bit of much-needed sweetness and tang.
Instead of a full bottle, you get dinky cans of wine from Canned Wine Co, which is a great option if you’re transporting your cheese to someone else’s house, or if you’re having an al-fresco feast.
The packaging is so lovely that you could probably just whack it on your cheeseboard just like that, but in the name of *science* I obviously had to unwrap it and check that it all looked just as delicious unsheathed.
The Garlic & Herb was the first stop for me, as it was giving serious Domino’s dip vibes. There was no mistaking the flavour was indeed garlic, so this is one for garlic lovers. The texture was great and it spread nicely on crackers, but I’d recommend letting it come to room temperature first so you end up with creamy spoonfuls rather than chalky scrapes.
While the Shamembert was baking away, I tackled the Bree. It certainly looks like the dairy version, and Honestly Tasty did a brilliant job of recreating Brie’s classic rind. The creaminess was definitely there, and we can’t fault the fudge-y texture. Top with a little dollop of cranberry sauce and you’ve got yourself a festive winner.
There’s no mistaking the Blue. As soon as I unwrapped it, this vegan beauty had the unmistakable whiff of blue cheese. Honestly Tasty says they mature their Blue over several weeks, so it’s no surprise that this one tastes pretty ripe. It’s a strong flavour, so not one for the faint-hearted. It’s also absolute gold with the caramelised onion chutney in the set.
And finally – the Shamembert. Again, kudos to Honestly Tasty for creating an extremely good-looking cheese. You can peel off the top exactly like you would with Camembert, to reveal a super creamy interior. While it doesn’t have the exact same pungency and cheesy texture as Camembert, the Shamembert offers something a little different – truffle. The mushroomy, earthy flavours offer a luxury feeling that doesn’t replicate cheese, but definitely gives it a run for its money.
My philosophy with meat-free eating tends to fall on the side of avoiding substitutes for the real stuff, instead choosing naturally plant-based foods. However, Honestly Tasty’s vegan cheese is a brilliant option for plant-based entertaining, as the cheeses look great on a board. They also work well in cooking, and I was really impressed with the melty texture of the Shamembert and the intense, creamy flavours of the Garlic & Herb (catch me using that as a pasta sauce soon).
If you’ve got plant-based guests, or just fancy something a little different on the festive buffet table this Christmas, you’d be in safe hands with Honestly Tasty.
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