We’ve written…literally, for years in these pages on the topic of vegan cheese. From Kite Hill’s brie-like, aged nut-based cheese, to the more recent, exciting development of Miyoko’s Creamery up the coast, and way back to a 2009 side-by-side comparison of Teese + Daiya, the two big vegan cheese contenders in that day.
To outsider non-vegans, it might appear as slightly obsessive, but, for those of us who are vegan but weren’t raised eschewing dairy products, a viable, dairy-free cheese alternative has long been a vegan holy grail. The taste of certain vegan cheeses can get close to comparable to their dairy equivalents, but, it turns out, the chemistry of dairy is pretty unique in its ability to create that texture and stretchiness some cheeses have when melted and, for the most part, until recently, replication’s fallen pretty short. In the past few years though, we vegan consumers have enjoyed a sort of vegan cheese revolution. Of late, it seems like you can’t throw a rock without hitting some aged nut-based cheese start-up. Los Angeles even has its own vegan cheese shop now.
Last year, Katie + kept hearing from our east coast friends how great these new vegan cheese slices were from Field Roast, a Seattle-based company that usually specializes in grain-based vegan meat alternatives (they make great vegan sausages). We kept checking area Whole Foods for the cheese to no avail.
Then, a few months back, we stumbled across a similar product from Follow Your Heart, a company just north of Los Angeles created in 1970 and known largely for their delectable mayonnaise alternative, Vegenaise. Similar to the praise given by our east coast friends of Chao, the Field Roast cheese, these FYH slices tasted wonderful and melted superbly, making for great grilled cheese sandwiches reminiscent of our pre-vegan days.
Eventually, we did happen across Chao in our local Gelson’s, of all places, and it too held up remarkably well to our remembered reverence for dairy sliced cheese.
Remarkably similarly well, actually. Side-by-side comparisons of the cheeses left us wanting for favorites—though Chao claims to incorporate a Thai-based fermented soy product in the cheese and the two companies have slightly different variation on the slices, they’re nearly indistinguishable from one another. To be clear—that’s not at all a criticism. Both brands of cheeses are excellent. We just thought it slightly odd that two vegan companies not really known for cheese products would suddenly both debut such similar products at similar times. Like when Hollywood puts out two really similar disaster movies at almost the same time.
Another similarity we noticed—both cheeses, produced by a Seattle company and an LA-area one, were produced in Greece. Which seemed like an odd coincidence. Turns out, as you may have guessed, it’s not a coincidence at all.
I reached out to Follow Your Heart, asking if there was any significance to the fact that both cheeses were produced in Greece, “wondering if they’re produced in the same factory or if vegan cheese is now a big thing in Greece or what the reason is.” Their very prompt and kind response, via Director of Sales, Adrienne duBois:
“Glad to hear you love the new cheese, we love it too, which is why it’s the first product we have ever sold which isn’t manufactured here, by us, in Los Angeles. You are absolutely correct about the Greek connection—it isn’t a coincidence. Field Roast’s Chao Slices and our new slices, blocks, and snack cheeses are all produced by the same Greek company. I don’t think its accurate to say that vegan cheese is now a big thing in Greece, as they sell very little of their products there. However, they do sell to the rest of Europe—and now the U.S. as well!”
Cool! Mystery, solved. Now we can go about enjoying all of our vegan cheese slices in every form and format.
Los Angeles—look for Follow Your Heart at tomorrow’s Vegan Beer Fest, where I’m guessing they’ll be doing something awesome with their cheese. We’ve at least heard that LA cupcake maven, Clara Cakes, is making (get ready for it) mac + cheese waffles using FYH cheeses. FYH also owns and operates a café + market that’s open to the public, which is how they first got their start so many years back.
Viva la revolución de queso vegano!