Sunday, August 1, 2010

# 4 Looking for Mr. Rightcheese

Cheese substitutes for the dairy-free have traditionally been pitiful. Without casein, the most abundant protein in milk products, the darn things won’t melt. Like a wad of rubber cement, they lay on your faux pizza defying any amount of heat a conventional oven can muster. I often wondered if an acetylene torch could do the job but my husband will not let me near one. Besides, there would still be the unappealing taste to contend with.

Through the years I would watch one digestion disturbing contender after another appear then disappear from the shelves of the nearby health food markets. I would imagine the dairy free newbie demanding their local establishment stock these alternatives and then buy exactly one package. I know I did. However, one taste and the verdict was inevitably, “blech”. The remaining packages would sit in the dairy case until the expiration date arrived. Then the unsold items would be tossed away and the product unavailable until the next unsuspecting consumer approached the store buyer and the whole cycle started again.

Every year I went to the National Health Expo, where new products for the health food industry are rolled out and dutifully tasted any new cheese substitute offering. About 10 years ago, a melting soy based product was introduced. It was soy-y tasting but acceptable and it melted without the addition of casein. I was hopeful, but the company was not viable and the product died a quiet death before anyone even heard of it.

A few months ago, a client reported they had found a great cheese substitute. Since we were speaking by phone, I could roll my eyes with abandon. I asked the critical questions:

Does it melt?

“It does,” she swore.

Does it taste like old socks?

“Not a bit,” she claimed.

I dutifully wrote the name down in case I ever ran into it. (A good detective checks things out.)

The product is called, Daiya and within a week, I spotted a package at Whole Foods. It comes shredded in two flavors, cheddar and mozzarella. I bought the mozzarella version and for the first time in many years, I made a pizza.

The good news is that it is tasty though Wisconsin does not have to worry about losing its share of the cheese market to it. Nobody who eats cheese would willingly choose Daiya. It does indeed melt and within a few weeks, Whole Foods was using it to make a vegan pizza alternative.

Now, the bad news: it is not health food. The main component is tapioca. The result is 6 grams of carbohydrate and one gram of protein per serving, it is about the nutritional equivalent of putting white rice on your pizza. Still, if you load your pizza shell with tomato sauce and vegetables, a sprinkling of Daiya makes it much more like regular pizza. Or if you use a little to melt on top of a turkey sandwich or vegetables rather than trying to make a plain “cheese” sandwich with it, there should not be too many nutritional concerns.

Bottom line: Daiya is a useful condiment.

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