Taste Test: Top Vegan Cheese Dishes in Toronto

Photo by M. Car

Photo by M. Car

Establishments around Toronto are working overtime to ease any separation anxiety faced by those who’ve bid farewell to cheese. Whether substituting pre-made products such as Daiya, or toiling over house made labours of love, the options are plentiful, convincing and downright delicious.

Here are some noteworthy dishes that are hot on the Toronto vegan cheese scene now (yes, there’s a scene):

1. Cheese Slab, Tori’s After Hours

The refined atmosphere of Tori’s After Hours is the ideal setting for this epic cheese dish. Soft lighting, trendy music and crisply folded linens would have anyone fancy themselves as part of the gourmet crowd. The plate is artistically arranged on a marble slab and features air dried smoked crème, peppercorn chèvre, and Brie. It’s served with shaved smoked beets, preserves, pecans, seeds and herbed gluten free crackers.

#1 Cheese SlabThe brie is mild and creamy, the chèvre is perfectly spiced, and the smoked crème – the only item that isn’t raw – has a more dense texture that allows it to be sliced. This is apparently the one they’ve spent the longest trying to perfect, and I assure you it’s time well spent. The eco-friendly, all-natural, organic bakery opened in 2012 by Victoria Vaccher, does most things right to be honest. Their donuts are award-winning, daily sandwiches have been elevated to “try before you die” status, and the cinnamon buns have the power to make you a better person. The cheese slab has been dubbed one of the “Best Toronto Dishes We’ve Tried (so far) in 2015” by Zagat.

Be sure to make a reservation at the wine bar as tables fill up quickly. The cheese (and other dinner selections such as pizza, pasta, salads, and an ever-changing chef special) and can be paired with libations from a thoughtfully curated list of wine, craft beers, and cocktails featuring small batch Dillon’s spirits.

2. Mozzarella sticks, Apiecalypse Now

Likely paying homage to my university days when “deep fried” wasn’t an adjective but a food group, I was drawn to the mozzarella sticks at Apiecalypse now. Satisfyingly stretchy vegan mozzarella with a lightly seasoned coating results in a snack that’s so crispy you can hear it snap. Paired with a fresh house made marinara, you need to keep a napkin close by, or get ready to lick your fingers like it’s your job. These mozzarella sticks are so convincingly similar to the “real” thing, you won’t miss the dairy.

#2 Mozzarella SticksJennai, owner of Apiecalypse Now, is passionately creative about her ever-changing vegan offerings which include daily donuts (like the cult classic “Homer Simpson” with pink frosting and sprinkles), a variety of pizza slices (bearing sassy monikers such as the “White Walker” and “Pepperphony”), and comfort foods like homemade soups and killer mac and cheese. She claims her customers – vegan and non-vegan alike – love that the bakery’s food is rich tasting but doesn’t make them feel heavy afterwards. Be sure to try their house cashew ricotta, which is featured in some of their dishes, including the Reunion Tour slice.

Spoiler Alert: Apiecalypse Now plans on expanding to include a second floor with a bar and vegan snacks, taking TGIF to a whole new level.

3. Green poutine, Fresh Restaurants

Vegan poutine has indeed arrived! Eating this steaming dish of french fries, greens and a mild cheesy vegan sauce makes one feel almost virtuous. Possibly due to the steamed baby bok choy, kale and swiss chard nestled between the fries, cheese, and mushroom gravy inching you closer to your “5-10 a day”. Maybe it’s the cool, community vibe of Fresh Restaurants, who pride themselves as being innovators on the vegetarian scene. But in the end, it just feels great knowing you deserve such a masterpiece. Well done, you.

#3 Green Poutine (2)The house made “fresh cheese” is surprisingly not nut-based. It’s a silky smooth blend of potato, carrot, nutritional yeast, sunflower oil, lemon juice and sea salt.  As a former connoisseur of poutine in my non-vegan days, I assure you I’m well qualified to declare this the best vegan poutine in the 6.

Vegan cheese is also featured on the larger-than-life Black Bean Burrito wrap with avocado, black beans, cilantro, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, red onion, and house made hot sauce. Despite this being unspeakably delicious, due to its size, I don’t advise ordering along with the poutine – unless it’s for “research” purposes of course.

Fresh has expanded considerably over the last 20 years, when it opened up as a travelling juice bar. Now with four locations in Toronto, there are plans to expand in Canada, the US and Mexico. Before you leave, be sure to pick up a copy of Ruth Tal and Jennifer Houston’s new cookbook, Superfresh, which includes the recipe for the fresh “cheese” sauce. Think about it for a minute – cheese on everything.

4 . Mammas Pizza, Vegan Primavera and Spicy Vegan

Mamas has been a mainstay on the Toronto pizza scene since the late 50s. While I’d hazard to guess customers were not demanding dairy alternatives when they first opened up shop, the tides have changed and Torontonians want more vegetarian and vegan options.

#4 Vegan PrimaveraI love this dish because it’s a great example of mainstream going vegan, making life easier for groups / couples / families who have a variety of food preferences and tastes (read: everyone). Daiya cheese is used on a selection of pizzas and the outcome is reliable comfort food that’s on your table (or couch, or wherever you fancy eating your pizza) within 30-45 minutes. Mamma’s has 2 featured vegan cheese pizzas: the Vegan Primavera with tomato sauce, vegan mozzarella, spinach, sundried tomatoes and marinated artichokes; and the Spicy Vegan, with tomato sauce, vegan pepper jack cheese, bruschetta, green and black olives and chili flakes. We were feeling rebellious and so we built our own pizza topped with vegan mozzarella, vegan sausage, sundried tomato and spinach. Whatever route you take, you can rest assured that Friday night take-in has been vegan-ized.

5. DIY, premium cheeses for the home cook

While some have attempted to make their own vegan cheese at home, others admit defeat and leave the cheesy work to pros who have “cheese smokers” and “temperature controlled rooms” on their resumes. Toronto-based companies are popping up and producing some gorgeous and delicious nut-based cheeses, available at markets and natural food stores around the city. One example is Wood and Water, a company run by a sweet young couple who have a knack for nuts. They produce a great variety of artisan vegan cheeses for you to devour at home using only whole, unprocessed ingredients. Their creations are cheeseboard-worthy but also great for adding to recipes. For a creamy off-the-charts pasta dish that’ll elevate you to hero status amongst your peers and loved ones, try mixing the herb and spice or original “trė nuht” cheese into cooked pasta with baby tomatoes and fresh basil.

#5 DIY

Photo courtesy of Wood and Water

Pleasantville Creamery (also known as PXVXC) is another local vegan cheese expert who is famous for their Buffalo style mozzarella. Although I’ve admittedly not been able to get my hands on it, if it’s anything like the company’s pints of handmade, raw, organic, non-dairy ice cream, you’re in for a serious treat.

Another local kid on the block worth noting is Zengarry, who make a variety of take home cashew cheeses including a flavourful Brie that’s delicious baked and topped with maple syrup and pecans.

6. Chocolate Cheesecake, Bunner’s Bakeshop

One step into the Junction location of this bakery, and you know you’re amongst the cool kids. When I called to order (24 hours required for whole pies, cakes, etc), Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was blaring in the store (“because it’s Friday!” the helpful staffer declared).

#6 Chocolate CheesecakeThe rich and decadent flavour of the chocolate cheesecake was an enormous hit at the dinner party I attended with friends (vegan and non-vegan alike). The texture is almost mousse-like, but thicker and creamier. No one missed the dairy in this dessert, which was so rich that servings could remain relatively small (one 6-inch cheesecake satisfied 6 adults and 4 children).

Bunner’s has been churning out vegan cupcakes, cakes, cinnamon buns, pies, cookies, brownies and savoury items since 2010 when Ashley Wittig and Kevin MacAllister opened up shop. They now have two locations (one in the Junction and one in Kensington Market) and a staff complement of 20. They also released a cookbook last year (Bunners – Simple & Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Treats) if you’re ready to take on vegan baking by storm in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Where are your favourite spots for vegan cheese in Toronto and abroad?

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