I ate fermented vegan cheese so you don’t have to – but you’re going to want to
Vegan cheese has hit it’s stride. Options in stores and restaurants are at an all time high, with a variety of companies ensuring that “I could go vegan if it weren’t for cheese” is no longer a valid option.
Thing is, the majority of these alternatives are starch and oil based, meaning they are highly processed and not health-food. Most days, I’m thrilled to melt some shreds on to a pizza, and even more ecstatic when these cheese help me mimic a mac n’ cheese sauce flawlessly. But why aren’t there more artisan options in the Canadian market? In my hunt for something that would satisfy the cheese fiend and the health freak inside of me, at the same time, I found Wood and Water Foods.
The Toronto brand is revolutionizing what we think of plant-based cheese with their Tree Nut Cheeze, Cheezecakes, and seasonal Cheeze treats. Wood and Water is most successful at making the types of cheese blocks that populate cheese boards and accompany a glass of wine. Their products are made with whole, raw and unrefined ingredients, that are organic, GMO free, soy free, AND fermented.
Jillian Leo, one of the creators, has a passion for making these high net gain, nutrient dense cheeses. She does so in a culturing process using Rejuvelac, a fermented liquid made from sprouted quinoa. That fermentation process creates beneficial bacteria and active enzymes, that make it great for digestion and overall gut health. It’s basically the same health benefits you’ve heard about Kombucha, a fermented beverage. Organic cashews and coconut oil throw good fats in to the mix, and help me make more excuses for eating a whole block myself.
I was lucky enough to sample the three cheese flavours on Jillian’s regular rotation; sharp + smoky (cheddar), herb + garlic, and original. But since I knew I was going to go at them fiendishly, I started by getting suggestions for food pairings. Jillian recommended pears or apple butter for the cheddar, trying herb + garlic plain on crackers or thinned as a pasta sauce, and trying sweet or tart preserves with the smooth, original flavour. See, fancy!
As I first dug in, I remember being frustrated that keeping the beautiful wheels in tact meant taking small, sophisticated slivers and bites. I also immediately pondered how, as a mostly functioning adult, i could not have a single cheese knife at my disposal. Preposterous.
1) Let’s start with the cheddar – easily my favourite of the bunch. It’s got a familiar tang to aged cheeses that I remember (probably from the apple cider vinegar), and is the perfect level of salty. It’s the most firm of the three offerings, holding up as more of a slice and less of a spread. It’s namesake lies in a hint of liquid smoke, just about the coolest ingredient in food preparation today.
2) My next favourite is the herb and garlic wheel, the hottest seller of the bunch. Jill’s right in saying it needs nothing, and is delicious straight from the package. This cheese is my contender for first to serve a non-vegan. Alongside the notes of garlic, the herbs in question are basil, parsley, thyme, and marjoram – all members of my fantasy cheeseball team.
3) The original cheeze is not a sore loser. My third favourite is still one I’d go out of my way for, especially when warm bread is involved. The little yellow flecks are everyone’s favourite vegan heavy hitter – nutritional yeast. This one really highlights the unique nuttiness of cashews, and relies on no gimmicks. For those already as passionate about vegan cheese as I am, you’ll have no problem snuggling up with this little one.
With over ten years of experience in the food industry, and closer to twelve as a vegetarian and vegan collectively, it’s no surprise that Jillian’s seeing big growth for the small company. Whether you’re planning a small solo spread, or hosting for others, these are the sort of cheeses that can impress any guest. It’s not about fooling people in to vegan cheese (as fun as that is), it’s about making good food. And that’s exactly what Jillian, and the team at Wood and Water are doing. Rather than competing with other cheeses on market, their brand compliments them. Just keep in mind that the healthier option doesn’t remain that way when you gorge on three wheels yourself.
You can currently find Wood and Water Tree Nut Cheezes at a host of stores across the GTA, including West End Food Coop, Urban Acorn Market, Yamchops, Raise The Root Organic Market, and The Big Carrot. For those outside on Ontario, The V Word Market has their items available online, shipped in cooler bags. Jillian hopes that branching outside of Canada is not too far off in the future.