Cheese is one of the most beloved dairy products across the globe. According to the 2018 South African Cheese Industry Landscape Report by Insight Survey, the per capita consumption of cheese has increased from 1kg to 1.9kg every year since 1995.
As a result of the increasing popularity of vegan and other dairy-free lifestyles, a variety of dairy-free cheese alternatives are now easily accessible.
“Vegan cheese can be made from numerous plant-based ingredients and comes in a wide range of serving styles and flavour profiles. It can be purchased from the store or made at home and is often crafted from ingredients you’d least expect,’’ says Kobus Mulder, cheese consultant for Cheese South Africa.
“Dairy-free cheeses date back to as far as the 1980s, but originally, they weren’t necessarily palatable. With that being said, the vegan cheese market has seen exponential growth in the last few years. Because of this, there are now so many flavourful varietals, most of which could trick even the most experienced cheese connoisseur.
“The classic types of ‘real’ cheeses we’ve all grown up eating (unless you’ve been cursed with lactose intolerance) are made from casein – a type of protein produced in the milk of mammals like goats, sheep, buffalo and cows.
“During production, certain enzymes that are produced in the animals’ stomachs, called rennet, are added to the milk,’’ says Mulder. Rennet is what causes curdling, and the final product is cheese.
There are other ways to make other types of dairy cheeses, but the use of rennet is the most mainstream way to produce cheeses of different flavours, textures, and styles.
“Vegan cheese (on the other hand) is entirely plant-based and involves consolidating the protein mass from various plant sources with lactic bacteria that may also be added in for acidity. Oils, emulsifiers, and thickeners are also often used to produce firmer types of vegan cheeses,” says Daniel Boshof, founder of Fauxmage, a South African vegan cheese-monger.
Vegan cheese comes in almost every form that traditional dairy-based cheese does.
This is particularly advantageous for an easy transition into vegan and dairy-free cooking.
“Some of the most popular styles include: shredded, block and sliced, soft cheese, Parmesan-style and nacho cheese dips: If you miss cheese dips and sauces, you can now buy vegan nacho cheese or choose from a variety of easy recipes online,” says Mulder.
“Some vegan cheeses are made from a combination of different starchy flours, such as tapioca, potato, arrowroot or all-purpose flour,” says Mulder. “The flours are not used by themselves, but mixed with other ingredients like white beans, soy milk, cashews, coconut or almond milk.”
Typically, vegan cheese recipes that use larger quantities of flour will result in a sauce-like consistency instead of a slice-able, block-style cheese. Results will vary depending on the particular recipe.
Most of these vegan cheeses are available at major grocery stores, although individual selections will vary.