I’m guessing that, for many, the most unfathomable aspect of a plant-based diet is a life without cheese. I relate to this because despite having been vegetarian for most of my life, I held off on “going vegan” for many years because I didn’t want to give up cheese – there is really no substitution for salty, nutty Pecorino Romano, tangy Gorgonzola, or a milky ball of buffalo mozzarella. I’m going to be completely honest here and confess that I do miss cheese sometimes*, and it’s challenging to scratch the itch when I get a craving (I’d rather eat a bicycle tire than Daiya, even if it “melts and stretches”. Just….no.).
When I heard that vegan celebrity chef and fellow Natural Gourmet Institute alum Tal Ronnen was coming out with a line of artisanal nut-based, cultured “cheese” called Kite Hill, my curiosity was piqued. Kite Hill uses custom blend, pasteurized nut milks as the base of their cheeses, which are fermented and aged in a fashion similar to traditional dairy cheese. The ingredient lists are short and all natural (think macadamia nuts, almonds, and salt, to name a few). Could this mean that I can (again, at long last) have my cheese plate and eat it too?
When Kite Hill offered to send me a sampling of their cheeses, I was stoked. My package arrived with containers of White Alder, Cassucio, Truffle Dill & Chive Cassucio, and Ricotta.
I immediately put the Ricotta to good use in a baked rigatoni & spinach pasta dish (no recipe – don’t kill me!) and it was a smashing success – creamy, tangy, and just the right amount of salt. My sometimes-vegan-skeptical husband loved it, too, so I’ll be purchasing this again and again to use in lasagna, ravioli, eggplant rollatini, and perhaps even in gnocchi. Apparently Kite Hill also makes a whipped ricotta, which I didn’t get to try (sad face). I’m anxious to seek this out as the website says it can be used in place of Mascarpone and is ideal in dessert recipes – holy vegan cannoli, sign me the F up! At a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), I’d rate the ricotta at 8.
I sampled the remaining cheeses straight up on crackers. I had previously read that these cheeses don’t really melt (sob) so I took the company’s recommendation and enjoyed them straight out of the fridge.
First up, White Alder.
This is clearly Kite Hill’s answer to Brie, described by the company as “a soft ripened velvety cheese with a white, fluffy rind”. Visually, this one gets an A+. It would look great on any cheese plate, and its overall appearance is truly very close to the “real thing”. As far as the taste, I found it to be a little bland, and while it was nice and creamy, it more resembled soft tofu than dairy cheese from a textural standpoint. I liked it, but didn’t love it and wouldn’t consider it to be satisfying substitution for Brie on its own. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), I’d rate White Alder at 5.
Kite Hill describes this as a “supple, creamy soft fresh cheese, rich and complex with sweet balanced aromas”. I really liked Cassucio. It reminded me a lot of mozzarella, taste-wise, and texturally, resembled a cross of mozzarella and goat cheese. It was delicious on the cracker (so cheese plate approved!) and would be delicious in a salad, as well. I’d pair it with some spicy arugula with toasted nuts and a tangy vinaigrette. Given its resemblance to mozzarella, the biggest bummer is that it doesn’t melt, so I can’t really use this on pizza (which is really the holy grail of non dairy cheese). On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), I’d rate Cassucio at 7.
Finally, I sampled the Truffle, Dill & Chive Cassucio.
This variety is essentially the Cassucio flavored with black truffle oil and herbs. I liked this one the best – same soft texture as the classic Cassucio, plus flavor wise, it really packed a punch – it reminded me a lot of spreadable Garlic & Herb Alouette, only far less processed and better for you! The truffle flavor was really subtle – you mostly taste the Dill and Chive in this one. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), I’d rate the Truffle, Dill & Chive Cassucio at 8.
Is Kite Hill a solid replacement for cheese? I’m not sure – I don’t think there is a “replacement” for cheese just yet, but that’s OK. Just like veggie burgers don’t exactly mimic the flavor and texture of beef burgers, they are delicious all on their own, and in my opinion, the two shouldn’t be compared – beans have a unique flavor and texture, and behave differently than meat when cooked. Same is true with nut milk and dairy milk.
I really liked Kite Hill and think it will be used most often in my home as a salad topping and occasionally spread on crackers to pair with cocktails. The ricotta is the most interchangeable with “traditional” dairy and I plan on using it often in Italian recipes.
Kite Hill is currently available in select Whole Foods Market locations throughout the country – find a store near you that carries their cheeses here.
Have you tried Kite Hill yet? What do you think?
* - I miss cheese occasionally, but I never feel deprived without it – after all, it’s a choice, not a mandate, to give something up! The benefits of going vegan far, far outweigh the presence of dairy in my diet! Read about my decision to give up dairy here.