Though I don’t eat vegan cheese often, as a former cheese lover/addict I do appreciate some good vegan cheese every now and again. However most commonly available vegan cheese only comes in a few flavors, typically mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, and nacho. While I’ve had all of these flavors in the past, and like them, it gets old. I’ve never been the sort of person who could eat the same thing over and over and over again without complaint. I like variety, even when it relates to products I eat only occasionally.
Of all the vegan cheese I’ve tried thus far, Daiya - as I may have mentioned before - is by far my favorite. When it was announced that they were coming out with sliceable wedge versions of their classic flavors I wasn’t all that excited. There was no situation I could think of that would require me to use vegan cheese slices rather then shreds. Things like cheese and crackers and grilled cheese are snack and meal ideas of the far distant past. Then I heard that they were coming out with a new flavor in wedge style. Garlic Jalapeno Havarti, well I nearly jumped out of my seat when I read that. Havarti you see, was a particular favorite of mine back in my dairy cheese eating days. Right up their along with smoked Gouda, feta and Brie. Now I haven’t had havarti in years. Long before I ever went vegan, possibly before I even got married, and I can’t honestly say I’ve really missed it in all that time. Yet when I read Daiya had come out with a havarti flavor I knew I’d have to try it, at least once, for old times sake. The fact that it’s garlic jalapeno flavor is just icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. Since back in my Havarti loving days my favorite types of havarti were always the flavored ones, garlic jalapeno and dill were my top two.
It was about a month or so at least from the time I read that announcement to the time Daiya’s Havarti Wedge made it’s way into my local grocery. I discovered it Friday afternoon, and even though I wasn’t in the mood for vegan cheese I just had to grab it. Then came the problem of what to do with it when I got it home. What could I make with it? First I had to figure out what I wanted to make with cheese, then I had to think about what would require slices over shreds. I thought of all my options, and in the end I decided to go the boring conventional route and make a grilled cheese sandwich. Now before I go into the details of my experience it should be noted that I am not nor have I ever been one of those vegans pining away for a vegan grilled cheese. Or for the perfect cheese to turn into a grilled cheese. After about the age of 10 I stopped caring about grilled cheese altogether, - which might actually be the last time I ate one - it simply wasn’t in my orbit anymore.
Growing up my dad made killer grilled cheese and I loved them. His were open-faced with loads of cheese, sliced tomatoes, chopped white onion, and black pepper, they were to die for. Although as good as they were once I grew up grilled cheese just automatically fell into the food category of “for children’ or ‘poor people’ and it was never something I felt the need to eat again. I’ve never craved or desired one since. To this day when I see recipes online, on blogs, in magazines, or in cook books for grilled cheese - vegan or other wise - I can’t help but roll my eyes. First of all why is there a recipe? It’s bread, butter and cheese, sometimes a little extra if you want to get fancy but it’s pretty damn basic. It’s cooking at it’s least creative and least inspirational. People consider it ‘comfort food’ it’s a reminder of a simpler time. It’s a way for foodies to manipulate you by seeming down to earth and familiar, while still appealing to your desire for something classy and creative which they apparently achieve simply by calling their sandwiches‘adult grilled cheese’ or ‘sophisticated grilled cheese’ etc... Of course plopping the word sophisticated in front of something doesn’t make it so, and I’ve never found anything particularly comforting about a grilled cheese. Even as a former cheese addict I always viewed the sandwich as a heart damaging, artery clogging plate of cholesterol and fat. - Of course a vegan version would be free of cholesterol but the image still remains. - But that’s me, and I’ve been told on more than one occasion, by more than one person that I have the occasional tendency towards snobbery.
Despite all of this, and all of my personal feelings towards grilled cheese and uncreative food in general, on this particular day, with no better idea in mind, I decided to use my garlic jalapeno havarti wedge to make... yes... a grilled cheese. The hypocrisy and irony of this decision I might add was not lost on me. Not one bit. In fact as I set about preparing my ‘cheese’ all I could think was “I can’t believe I’m making a grilled cheese.” and “This is so lame.” I kept internally chiding myself for being ridiculous, but still couldn’t come up with any better way to use my havarti wedge. In the end the sandwich came out fantastic, it tasted amazing and my pride recovered. Taking a little inspiration from my dad I decided to use fresh tomato slices, and black pepper, but I also added rosemary sea salt and arugula. - my new love. - No recipe though because that really would be going too far, it’s more than easy enough to figure out on your own.
As for Daiya’s Garlic Jalapeno Havarti Wedge itself, well it’s a marvel. Truly fantastic, amazing, incredible, and down right delicious. I tried two thin sliced on their own before trying it on my grilled cheese and the flavor of it unmelted was just as good as the flavor melted. The cheese is creamy and rich exactly how I remember Havarti tasting, and it melts wonderfully. Melted it was creamy and rich, plus thick and gooey. As for the garlic jalapeno flavor it was perfect, not to overpowering and not to subtle with just the right blend of heat. It’s hard to see how any dairy based havarti could be better than what Daiya has created. It’s absolutely perfect, so if you like vegan cheese and were/are a fan of havarti in general then I urge you to go forth and by thyself a garlic jalapeno wedge. Your tastebuds will not be sorry, and if you come up with a more creative use of your wedge than I, please let me know so I can try it too!