A New Kind of Non-Dairy Cheese: Artisanal Vegan Nut Milk Cheeses from Kite Hill

by Gena on July 3, 2013

Kite Hill Collage

I’m so glad that the dilly cashew cheese and cucumber rounds look as good as they tasted! Because we’re on the topic of nut cheese, and how great it is, this is a perfect day for me to be sharing an exciting new product review: my experience with Kite Hill cheeses, a new line of tree nut cheeses developed with the expert culinary skills of Tal Ronnen.

I’ve been hearing about Kite Hill cheese for months now, and waiting for its arrival with tremendous excitement. Kite Hill is the first ever plant-based (non-dairy) cheese to be included in Whole Food’s cheese department, rather than the regular dairy section. The brand is headed by Tal Ronnen, whose name you may know from his wonderful, gourmet cookbook, The Conscious Cook, from his new LA eatery, Crossroads, or because he developed the recipes for Oprah Winfrey’s 21 Day Cleanse. Tal has shaped his career around proving that vegan cuisine can be beautiful, flavorful, filling, and enticing.

I remember reading The Conscious Cook when it was released, and noting with a smile Tal’s assertion that cashew cream is a “secret weapon” ingredient. I share his enthusiasm for nut cheeses, and always have. I make them at home often, but I’ve always thought it might be nice if they were commercially available as a special treat; now they are.

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The Kite Hill team consists of Tal, Laura Chenel Chevre alum Jean Prevot, Le Cordon Bleu cheese making instructor Monte Casino, and Stanford Biochemist Pat Brown. This impressive team of professionals have created artisanal, unique cheeses that have just four ingredients:  nut milk, cultures, enzymes, and salt.  They’ve unlocked a technique that makes the proteins in nut milk behave like those in milk, compensating for the lack of casein (milk protein) and lactose so that the nut milk can coagulate and form a curd that is then concentrated and cultured–just like dairy cheese.  After coagulation, Kite Hill follows an artisanal cheesemaking technique–all the way down to the brining and aging.

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“I’d love to go vegan, but I could never live without cheese.” I hear these words again and again in my own practice, and I remember uttering them myself before I transitioned to a plant based diet. It seems that cheese–more than meat, yogurt, or milk–is the food that keeps many folks from experimenting with veganism. This is partly taste, and partly the fact that cheese is so ubiquitous. It’s in so many foods, especially restaurant dishes, and it’s a part of many of our fondly remembered childhood comfort foods.

With clients who loved cheese but were trying to go dairy-free, I rarely used to recommend most commercially available vegan cheese substitutes. Instead, I offered nut cheese recipes or recommended focusing on other vegan foods for flavor and texture. This isn’t because I’m not tremendously grateful that vegan cheese shreds exist (I am!), or because I think there’s anything wrong with them. It’s because I know that, no matter much better they’ve become, they aren’t quite authentic enough to please a true cheese lover. Kite Hill may be the first commercially available cheese that is a dead ringer for the “real thing.” And the proof of this–for me, anyway–is that my mom, who’s a big cheese lover, tried them and loved them at my apartment over the weekend.

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The folks at Kite Hill sent me three of their flavors: Cassucio, a soft, spreadable, mild cheese, Cassucio with dill and truffle, and the soft ripened White Alder, which is very similar to brie. I marveled at how similar the latter was to the “real thing”; it even had that characteristic skin and soft, creamy inner texture.

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Funnily enough, the Alder was so authentic that it evoked my dislike of brie cheese; I suppose that’s as good a testament to it’s authenticity as anything!!

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Even so, I was impressed with the texture, smell, and taste. So very much like the brie I remember from my dairy eating days.

The Cassucio cheeses were both a total delight!! I loved the soft, delicate texture, and the slightly tangy, sweet taste. They reminded me of cashew cheese the way I might make it at home, but with a silkier, more uniform texture.

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I loved eating the cheese with cucumber, zucchini, and homemade almond crackers as a midday snack. The plain version has a touch of nutty taste, but I’d truly never guess that the herb variety is made from non-dairy milk. So authentic.

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I also loved sprinkling it on zucchini noodles or on a lovely summer salads. Here’s one with farmer’s market greens, red potatoes, and some quinoa and herbs:

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Kite Hill also makes two vegan ricottas: whipped and firm. I didn’t have a chance to try those, but if they’re as good as the other cheeses, then I’m sure they’re outstanding! I love how fresh and wholesome this product is. You can certainly taste the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into the cheeses.

Right now, Kite Hill cheeses can be found in the cheese section of select west coast Whole Foods. But the Kite Hill website will be offering updates on when the cheeses will start to be available at Whole Foods locations throughout the country. When it is, it’ll be in the cheese section, along with other fine fromage–what a coup for a vegan product!

Keep your eyes peeled for Kite Hill’s arrival at a Whole Foods near you; it shouldn’t be too long from now. I hope you’ll treat yourself to a sampling of this special and unique product, and that you share it with a cheese lover who has expressed his or her doubts about plant-based eating to you. This may just be the vegan “cheese” that plants a seed of curiosity. For more of my thoughts on Kite Hill (and a more thorough description of the flavors) tune into the Our Hen House podcast this coming Saturday!

xo

 

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Fiona July 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Oh wow!!! This is so exciting!! I haven’t been this excited about a vegan product in a long time! I’m going to contact my local Whole Foods since I’m in CA and see if we’ll be carrying it soon! Thank you so much for reviewing this product line! :)

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Amanda July 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I’m so excited for these non-dairy cheeses – the Alder looks so much like brie, it’s crazy! I haven’t been a big fan of the vegan cheese substitutes thus far and I find that they usually upset my stomach (even more so than when I was eating dairy cheese, which is saying something). I’ll be anxiously awaiting Kite Hill’s arrival on the east coast – hopefully very soon!

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

They are SO good, Amanda — can’t wait to see what you think.

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sarah July 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hey Gena! I can’t wait to pick some up, I was wondering do they all contain cashews? My Fiance is really allergic and I was hoping for some almond based cheeses…fingers crossed!

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Heather J July 3, 2013 at 2:49 pm

The Kite Hill web site says they use almond & macadamia nut milks. No mention of cashew in the FAQs.

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm

What Heather said!

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Amanda July 3, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I know this isn’t a real productive response, but I gotta say, holy crap.

(Oh, and nice review.)

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Emma July 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Those look insanely like authentic dairy cheese- that brie especially!
Tal Ronnen is a seriously talented chef.
I don’t have much hope that these will make it to the UK but hopefully someone will come up with something just as good :)

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Heather @Gluten-Free Cat July 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

This is incredibly exciting! As much as I love making vegan cheese there are those lazy moments when I wish I could just pick some up from the store. My eyes will be peeled as I anxiously look for Kite Hill’s arrival! Thanks for a great review.

Heather

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Of course!!! I’m excited for them to hit the East Coast :)

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Evan July 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Personally I still adore cheese and still buy it if it’s made with vegetable rennet but I would buy this in a heartbeat if I saw it in store and it was competitively priced. Just from the looks alone I’d say this brand’s a winner.

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I don’t actually have pricing info, and it’s not on the site, but I would imagine it’ll be comparable to other items in the cheese counter. It’s SO good, Evan — methinks you’ll approve!

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Christa @ Edible Balance July 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm

wow, this is impressive! The vegan cheeses I have found are tiny portions and the price is way too high. Plus for the most part the presentation is terrible! These definitely would grace any wine and cheese events perfectly :)

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Totally! It’s perfect entertaining food.

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Kite Hill July 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for the review – we’re blushing! We’re now in LA and San Diego and we expect to rollout nationwide by Fall!

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Gena July 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hooray! You guys rock — and thank you so much for the sampling.

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Rachel July 4, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Will they ever make it to Canada? They look so good!

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Ontarian February 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I would really like to try these, they look so good! Will they ever be available in Canada (specifically, Ontario)?
I certainly hope so.

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Christine (The Raw Project) July 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

This looks wonderful, can’t wait for our local Whole Foods to have it. Thanks for the review!

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Christian July 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Congratulations for this accomplishment!…

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Liz July 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm

They are as amazing as they look. I have been lucky enough to have them at Crossroads and my Whole Foods just starting carrying them. It is a great day for vegans :).

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Kathleen July 3, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Thanks so much for the review! This sounds like a game changer. Cheese has been such a huge obstacle in getting people in my life to consider going vegan. I can’t wait until it works its way east!

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Sophie July 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

Wow! In my transition despite my ibs I find it so hard with dairy, especially living in a house with dairy eaters. These look so good and I love how simple the ingredients are! No soy either, so great! I agree with you on the alder, I love brie and damn that looks so much like brie! I hope they come over to the UK. The US has such better foods!

Is that peach in your salad? It looks yummy!

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Karuna July 4, 2013 at 7:43 am

Wow they do look amazing!!! but do they have nut Cheddar and Parmesan? those would rock my boat!!

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Sylvia July 4, 2013 at 8:13 am

Wow! Can’t believe they are vegan, they look exactly like real cheese. I want to try these!

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Suzanne July 4, 2013 at 10:28 am

Even though I’ve never been a cheese lover, I commend new food companies making products such as these. It will make the transition to eating more (or all) plant based foods a lot easier for some!

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Cherity October 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I’m so intrigued! I haven’t been on the plant based wagon long and I have not found a way to even make it at home that is totally compliant with the Engine 2 guidelines, so I am desperately awaiting the arrival in my own local WF Market!

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Kim July 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I’m trying not to get too excited here…hoping that these amazing cheeses are gluten free too. Any chance that some of them are almond free?

Those photos make me want to find a good bottle of wine and get some crackers ready just in case the cheese shows up in our local Whole Foods next week. Clearly, I will need to stalk the cheese section every week…..

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Emily July 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

When will these be coming to Southern Ontario Canada?

OR ..send me recipe and instructions to make my own. Please.

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Erin July 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Great review! Are these cheeses shelf stable prior to being opened?

I live in Canada but am trying to figure out if they would survive a wait at the airport followed up by the plane trip :)

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Laura July 4, 2013 at 7:13 pm

These look so good! I have heard of them, and I think I “liked” them on Facebook. Can’t wait for them to show up in NYC! I mean, I love real cheese but don’t want to eat it, and never felt any replacements were really either healthy or cheese like. Some of the shreds are ok in a pinch,and I do cashew “cheese” too, but these would be a much better cheese craving fix. Please announce when you think they’re in our area!

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Nic@diningwithastud July 4, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Cheese is definitely the reason I couldn’t go vegan. Hmm – maybe I should give this a shot :)

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Jenni July 5, 2013 at 12:32 am

It’s crazy how much that looks like real cheese! I’m going to look for it at my Whole Foods tomorrow. One of the perks of living in LA (and in my book, this compensates for our traffic) is that we tend to be on the up and up of health trends, always getting everything as soon as it’s put on the market. When products like this come out, I can’t wait to try them. If it’s already at one of my WF markets, I’m going to buy a container of the Truffle, Dill & Chive flavor right away!

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Meg Rushbrook July 5, 2013 at 2:15 am

Wow! These look amazing!! I can’t wait to try them when I’m back in the states on vacation this summer.

I’ve been living in Korea for the past 4 years and in that time, I’ve became vegan. There is NOTHING even remotely like this here! There is NO EXCUSE not to be vegan in the US, Canada or UK! It’s so easy!

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Nicole July 5, 2013 at 10:11 am

These look amazing and exactly what I always search for in health food stores! I’ve only had them at fancy vegan dinners before. I wish they would give you some to host a giveaway!!

I’ve made raw cashew cheese before but it was just “okay.” These look so delicate and yummy! I’ll be stoked to find them in DC Whole Foods when they get here!!

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Kimmythevegan July 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Mmmm those look great. I recently had a chance to try the White Alder one. I don’t really remember cheese as it’s been so long since I’ve had it, but it really reminded me of brie. It was quite good – they really have the texture!

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Marissa July 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

This is so exciting! I’ve been following all of the buzz about Kite Hill, and I can’t wait for them to start carrying it on the East Coast. My enthusiasm for vegan cheese is really funny because I wasn’t a huge fan of cheese before I was vegan nor do I longingly crave anything that was made with dairy cheese. Despite that, I love trying new vegan cheeses and adore some of the newer ones that have been popping up in the last couple years.

What I find most exciting about this is that people are using their talents to come up with some amazing vegan products that are even better than the “real” thing (I’m thinking eggs, cheese, meat, and wine here). Finally, those with an intimate knowledge of production processes and with scientific understanding are proving that vegan food isn’t lesser-than.

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Lara July 7, 2013 at 11:38 am

I can’t wait to try vegan artisan cheeses next time I’m in the US! I’ve been reading so much about them and they look delicious.
I don’t really ever crave cheese, but in my dairy days, I LOVED the stinky French ones.

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Gabby @ the veggie nook July 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm

It’s funny how before I went vegan, I was never much of a cheese person, only the occasional indulgence, but now I am totally obsessed with recreating the flavour. I cannot wait till these are available in Canada!

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Christina @ The Beautiful Balance July 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I need this in my life. I have been looking for an amazing vegan nut-cheese for years!

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KJP July 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

After reading your rave review, I raced out to the Whole Foods in Glendale, CA because they’re one of the locations that carries this cheese and I’m lucky enough to live nearby. When I asked about it at the cheese counter, the worker was kind enough to open a package and offer me a taste of the Cassucio with dill and truffle rather than making me buy the $14.99 package and for that I am extremely grateful. I recognize that everybody has different taste, but I did not like it at all. I didn’t think the flavor was particularly good and I really disliked the texture – I thought it was mushy and tofu-y rather than cheesy. In my opinion this product is not a game changer for vegan cheese, it’s just an option that’s pretty much on par with the others and very expensive. I still may try the White Alder if they ever carry that variety because I’d love a vegan cheese that tastes like Brie but I’ll scale my expectations way back. And hopefully the cheese guy will let me sample it first again! This comment is not meant to be overly negative (I love your blog!) and maybe I’m the only one who won’t like this cheese but I wanted to share my experience since I was able to try it and also let people know the cost which I think is pretty outrageous.

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Gena July 13, 2013 at 5:57 am

Oh, KJP, I’m sorry you didn’t love it! Especially since you drove to find it. I do think the brie is worth trying, because truly, it is not at all tofu-like in texture, and I think you’ll find that it’s unique among vegan cheese products out there. But as for the Cassucio, I’m sorry. I thought it had a lightness and delicacy that all of the other commercial vegan cheeses don’t…but I do get the tofu criticism, for sure.

Anyway, thanks for reading my blog, sorry for the experience, and thanks for the comment. I didn’t have pricing info when I received the cheese, and since it’s not yet in stores out here, that is very good info to know. Appreciate your feedback.

G

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Beth October 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I totally agree! I just tried them, and was disappointed in the texture. The flavor was good, but very mild as you mentioned, as nondescript as dairy cream cheese. The texture was too moist and un-creamy (is that a word?). And $13, oh dear. I DID like the White Alder, but not enough to pay $13 again. My store doesn’t carry the Costanoa, but I really wanted to try it. I just made my own soy yogurt and rejuvelac to start experimenting with the recipes in Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner. She sampled her soft gruyere fondue and almond ricotta at NW Veg Fest a few weeks ago and it was AMAZING. I’m hopeful I’ll have a better experience with texture, in particular.

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Oliver Dibble August 28, 2013 at 12:39 am

When they can equate to an aged cheese like 2-year-old extra sharp cheddar, then I’ll invest in some, but a “close approximation” of something this mild is not worth an asking price in excess of what an equivalent European import runs.

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Sharon Scafidi September 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I am very interested in trying your cheeses, but I am in NY. How can I get some? Ever since going dairy free for health reasons, I have missed cheese terribly! Soy alternatives are not an option as I have a soy allergy as well. Please let me know, I would love to try them all!

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Kim G. January 11, 2014 at 8:39 pm

The white alder is amazing and I’m hooked. I’m a white-knuckling-it-when-it-comes-to-cheese vegan and this great. Now I’d love to know the secret. I’d still buy it, but I’d also love to experiment with my own favors, and frankly keep my wallet on its budget. Any clues anyone?

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