Great Dairy-Free Cheese At Last!

in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg
Published: September 2, 2010

It’s the dairy-free dream come true. A cheese alternative that tastes as good as the real deal. Homemade pizza, anyone?

The vegan inventors of Daiya Foods Mozzarella Style Shreds and Cheddar Style Shreds knew they had an inspired food invention when they showed up at the Natural Foods Products Expo in Anaheim, California in March 2009. But they weren’t prepared for what would follow: the reaction was sizzling.

“We were surprised by the lineups at our booth and people going crazy for our product,” says Greg Blake, Daiya’s CEO. They won, in short order, VegNews’ 2009 product of the year award and PETA’s Libby award for best vegan cheese.

Success continued to snowball for the Vancouver-based shred makers. Blake and his partner Andre Kroecher, Daiya’s vice president of innovation, began sending out samples of their products made with tapioca or arrowroot flours, pea protein and coconut oil to vegan food manufacturers and restaurants. The pair were hoping for feedback. Instead, they were inundated with requests to order.

The partners sprang into action, building a dedicated plant free of all top allergens and gluten, and hiring. Today they employ about 40 people. While delighted with the success, “it has been intense,” Blake says with a chuckle.

In the United States, Daiya’s shreds (which are also low-fat) are available in Whole Foods, Ralphs and growing number of natural food stores, used in restaurant meals and as ingredients in packaged foods, such as Amy’s Kitchen’s new gluten-free Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze. This fall, Daiya will also launch its shreds in Canada’s bigger natural foods chains.

The idea to create a good vegan cheese substitute was Kroecher’s – and he was simply trying to please his own palate. However, when his original recipe proved a hit with even cheese-eating friends, he and Blake decided that, eureka, this might be a business.

Many recipe trials, tinkering and some destroyed kitchen equipment later, they had two excellent shred products. These melt, stretch and maintain texture, even under the searing heat of commercial ovens. A convenience factor is that Daiya shreds can be substituted in the exact same quantity as cheese in recipes.

But what about branching out beyond shreds? Blake says: “We’re constantly working toward new products. We can’t tell you what they are yet, but we’re definitely interested.” So stay tuned: cow-free cheddar may only be the start.

* U.S.: Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds and Mozzarella Style Shreds: $4.99/8 oz;
* Canada: Coming this fall; same retail price.