Despite the marvelous advances food tech companies have made in the areas of chicken, beef, fish, and even egg substitutes, vegan cheese has been far from fooling anyone. Even the best of the faux dairy is still a pretty obvious reproduction, often tasting more like chewy soy chunks than the real deal.
Until now. Whole Foods and Lyrical Foods put their brains together to create Kite Hill, a cheese-making biz that concocts artisanal nut milk cheese using exactly the same process as animal milk cheese (only cruelty-free). This stuff is legit.
We were asked in for a tasting at the Whole Foods Coral Gables store, where associate specialty coordinator Kari Foley schooled us on all things Kite Hill.
The products just hit Florida stores, so you can find 'em now at your fave branch. No digging them out of the refrigerator next to the Daiya though. Instead, they're on display in the specialty section, paired with other American artisanal cheeses.
The only difference between Kite Hill's four varieties and your standard handcrafted cheese is the milk. In this case, they're utilizing almond and macadamia milks rather than goat, cow, or sheep. While the majority of vegan cheeses currently on the market include a whole host of ingredients, Kite Hill has only four: nut milk, salt, enzymes and cultures.
It's just cheese, folks.
The folks behind these dairy-free products are the cream of the culinary crop. The team includes vegan celeb chef Tal Ronnen; Monte Casino, former artisan cheese-making instructor at Le Cordon Bleu; Jean Prevot, a leading cheese-making overseer previously with Laura Chenel Chèvre; and Dr. Pat Brown, a Stanford University biochemist.
The end result is a product that's closer to the real deal than anything I've ever tasted before.
Here's a rundown of each variety and what they're all about:
Made with almond milk, this moist, crumbly ricotta doppelganger is mild and slightly tangy. It crumbles like the real thing, and held up well when subbed into some ricotta and blueberry pancakes.
This brie-esque, soft-ripened cheese comes complete with rind. It's made with almond and macadamia milks, and has a mild piquancy and nutty aftertaste. Goes great with sour cherry jam.
A soft, fresh white cheese made with almond and macadamia milks, this is similar to a basic goat cheese, but a little less sharp. The flavor profile is mellow and smooth with some zesty overtones.
Cassucio with chive, dill and truffle
A flavored version of the above, this cheese has a lot of tang and is heavy on the chive. Perfect snack cheese -- would probably even pair well with a bagel.
While none of the cheeses are identical to their dairy milk counterparts, they're surprisingly close. They do lack a certain creaminess that comes with any standard cheese; there's a slight mouthfeel variation.
But serve these artisanal beauties up on a platter with grapes, sour cherry jam and crackers, and we're pretty sure your average cheese-eater wouldn't know the difference. Vegan win.
All Kite Hill cheeses are a no-no for people with nut allergies, of course, so keep that in mind. Otherwise, rejoice in your ability to eat cheese again. Hallelujah!
Kite Hill cheeses are available exclusively at Whole Foods, in the specialty cheese section under American artisanal. They range in price from $12.99 to $16.99, and the ricotta is per pound.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.