After eight years as a vegan, I’d come to accept that cheese substitutes would never be as yummy as the cruelty-derived animal milk pus stuff. As various plant-based “cheese” substitutes have entered the market, they’ve each confirmed my feeling that vegan cheese could be decent, palatable, and functional (i.e. melt, spread, etc.), but certainly would never be truly gourmet. We could never compete with the so-called cheese gourmands who fill pages of magazines waxing poetic about the stuff.
Until now, there just haven’t been vegan cheeses that even came within the ballpark of real gourmet cheese. Again, I’m not talking about the waxy, bland American cheese that can easily be substituted with Daiya or Teese–I’m talking about the kind of cheese sold by fancy cheese shops and counters, the kind that command a high price point and can be served with fruit for dessert. As I said–all of this was true until now. Enter: Kite Hill cheese.
Touted as “artisinal nut milk cheese of remarkable craftmanship,” Kite Hill has received significant hype from foodies of all stripes in the past few months. Created by vegan chef mastermind at the helm of Crossroads, Tal Ronnen, Kite Hill is truly gourmet vegan cheese that embodies the bold flavor notes and textures of animal product-derived cheese. Through expert techniques, macadamia nut milk and almond milk are aged with enzymes to somehow becomes blocks of firm, complex, flavorful and rich real-tasting cheese.
Let’s start with the White Alder, my favorite of the cheeses. According to Kite Hill’s website, “White Alder is a soft ripened velvety cheese with a white, fluffy rind. It has a tangy mushroomy flavor profile with a rich, silky texture and pungent aromatics. This cheese is best served straight from the refrigerator and pairs well with white grapes.” The website also suggests wine pairing options for each of its cheeses–for White Alder, it recommends “A dry white wine such as a Chardonnay with fruit or citrus notes or even Champagne.”
I found the White Alder to be rich in flavor, and I loved the white rind. It reminded me of (non-vegan) Brie in texture and taste, and was delicious spread on crackers and enjoyed as a gourmet appetizer. I love the wood container it comes in–it’s obvious that from the packaging to the presentation to the flavor, this is a really lovingly crafted product.
Next, I tried Cassucio Soft Fresh cheese. I found this cheese to be the least tangy of the bunch, similar to a (non-vegan) mozzarella. According to Kite Hill’s website, “Cassucio Soft Fresh is a supple, creamy soft fresh cheese, rich and complex with sweet and balanced aromas…The lactic flavors pair well with fresh greens, so this cheese is beautiful when sliced into a salad.” I agree with Kite Hill’s assessment–while enjoyed atop bread, I could have easily seen this gracing a hearty salad or rounding out a raw vegetable dish. Kite Hill suggests pairing it with spicy, red wine–I’d love to try that combination sometime.
Lastly, I tried the Cassucio Truffle Dill and Chive. According to Kite Hill, “The Truffle, Dill & Chive Cassucio is a supple, creamy, fresh cheese with earthy, black truffle overtones. The curds are hand mixed, combined with fresh truffle oil and a mixture of herbs, and then shaped and pressed immediately before packaging to ensure ultimate freshness.” They recommend pairing it with a dry white wine.
This cheese was a crowd favorite among my vegan guest tasters, as it has its own tang and rich flavor notes. Truffle oil was all the rage a few years ago, and I’d love to see this cheese bringing it back into vogue. I think this cheese would go well with vegan Caviart at a swanky party. While my friends and I enjoyed this with beer, they really do deserve to be paired with fine wines or kombuchas–I can easily see myself orchestrating a wine and cheese party to wow even my non-vegan friends.
In sum, I highly recommend Kite Hill cheese for vegans who have been missing truly gourmet, artisan cheese. This is the best in class, by far. At the risk of sounding dramatic, Kite Hill has made me feel like we we vegans have truly “arrived”–we no longer have to “go without” in order to live cruelty-free and forgo dairy. We can now saunter up to the cheese aisle and say, “I’ll take few ounces of the White Alder, please,” with the same air of connoisseurship as those who stake their claim as non-vegan cheese gourmands.
Currently only available at select Whole Foods, in the future, Kite Hill will be more widely available. They also make a gourmet Ricotta and a beautiful, paprika and fennel-rinded cheese called Costanoa which look absolutely fantastic. Learn if Kite Hill cheese is available near you on their website and check out their Facebook page for updates on future availabilities.