“We are into real foods and real flavors, and don’t do fake animal products,” says the Seattle-based company’s President David Lee.
He explains that the company does not try to imitate animal products, including dairy cheese, because “when you make something that is an imitation the implication is it is not as good as what you are trying to imitate,” but our vegan cheese is “delicious” because it relies on the plethora of plant-based ingredients available to create a dairy cheese alternative that is unique.
Rather than try to mimic traditional dairy cheese flavors, such as mozzarella, monetary jack or cheddar, Field Roast made Chao Slices in innovative flavors, including Creamy Original with chao tofu, Tomato Cayenne with spicy peppers and Coconut Herb with black pepper, Lee said.
The company also relies on fermented bean curd, or chou doufu, to impart a “real” fermented taste to the slices that recalls the fermentation of many types of dairy cheese.
Lee also noted that unlike other vegan cheeses that try with mixed success to mimic the melt and mouth-feel of dairy cheese by using gums and water as binders, Chao Slices use coconut oil to create a rich, creamy product. This allows the slices to bend without crumbling and melt “very nicely” for a “great grilled cheese or Panini,” Lee said.
He acknowledges, however, that the slices do not have the complete functionality of dairy cheese and, therefore, are not ideal for pizza. However, they are great for sandwiches and burgers, he said.
The coconut oil in Chao Slices also ups the fat content to 4 grams of saturated fat per slice compared to 2 grams of saturated fat in vegan Daiya Cheddar Style Slices and 3 grams of saturated fat in Tofutti’s Mozzarella Cheese Slices.
But Chao Slices never promised to be healthier than dairy cheese, Lee said. Rather, he said, “we are flavor first,” and as a result “our products are not ones that require a leap” to enjoy.
He explained the addition of coconut oil creates a “rich satisfying mouth feel” and similar satiety as animal fat. This “really expands the potential customer” beyond the hardcore vegan to any middle of the road consumer, he said.
An experienced cheese maker
The company’s foray into the retail vegan cheese segment builds on its experience with vegan cheese in the food service segment.
In that space, Field Roast offers a “tangy, artisan tofu cheese” that is soft and creamy. The herb and pepper cheese is ideal for spreading on bread and crackers, crumbled on salads and used as a vegan spread on sandwiches, according to the firm’s website.
“We have been making [Herbed] Chao Cheese for 12 years … and by applying that [experience] to the [retail] cheese category, our customers know it will be good and not be fake,” Lee said.
Vegan cheese is growing in popularity
The firm wanted to expand into the retail cheese segment in part because the category “is heating up” as there is “a fundamental shift away from animal products to plant-based foods,” Lee said.
He explained the decision to eat plant-based food is no longer at the vegan or vegetarian level, but rather is an individual meal decision being made by flexitarians.
Flexitarians are choosing plant-based foods because they want options that are healthier and environmentally friendly, in addition to ethical, Lee said.
However, because animal well-being is not their main concern, they will not tolerate a subpar alternative to an animal product, he said.
“People have higher expectations of vegan cheese now than they did even two years ago,” so it is essential to create high quality “real” foods that that are authentic and made with “simple tenants of good cooking” such as spices, salt, vegetables and oil – not high-tech ingredients, Lee said.