Oprah tried it. Ellen talked it up. Alex Jamieson, wife of Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock, calls it “crack for vegans.” Daiya (pronounced day-a) is a new non-dairy cheese alternative that’s causing such a sensation that one vegan blogger in L.A. described it as “the sort of stuff that’s going to start a revolution.” For vegans who don’t eat dairy but grew up loving grilled cheese and gooey mozzarella on pizza, cheese is often the thing they crave most on their dairy-forbidden diets. “The cheese flavour is dead-on, and even more remarkably, Daiya melts like real cheese. No joke. It melts and stretches and actually makes you want to eat it,” writes the L.A. blogger at toliveandeatinla.com.
“It’s revolutionary in that now people can have pizza and mac and cheese,” writes Kishari Sing on her blog The Food Allergy Queen. When Sing taste-tested Daiya, she declared it “delicious,” then listed its ingredients: no dairy, no soy, no eggs, no nuts, no gluten, no casein, no wheat, no barley, none of the usual allergy suspects. Tapioca and water are the top ingredients. Everything else is plant-based. The company claims Daiya contains 33 per cent less fat than regular cheddar cheese. “It’s probably the best vegan cheese substitute out there,” Sing told Maclean’s. “Mostly because the previous versions have all been so hideous!”
Toronto filmmaker Anthony Grani’s search for the best vegan cheese began four years ago when he fined-tuned his vegetarian diet to vegan. He even launched a blog called Vegan Cheese Reviews: The Ongoing Search for the Best Vegan Cheese. “Really, anything my wife and I saw we’d buy. Nothing tasted right. Nothing melted right. The first time we’d try something new, we’d try to convince ourselves it was good. Then you’d try it again for the second meal and it was, ‘You know what? No. This is terrible.’ ”
Grani read in a magazine called VegNews that Daiya had been named 2009 vegetarian product of the year at a huge trade show in California. “I was like, ‘How did I miss this? I have to find this.’ ” Not only that but the inventors were Canadian. “I thought, ‘It’s weird that it’s so hard to get here.’ ” When he began looking, “it was only in stores in the States. It looked like it was going to be a giant pain to get it across the border.”
Then Grani and his wife read on the Daiya website that it was available in a little health food store in Watkins Glen, N.Y. In November 2009, Grani and his wife made the five-hour trip, “and the first thing we did before we checked into the B & B, we went straight [there] and bought out their supply of Daiya. We bought five pounds of cheddar and five pounds of the white.”
Back in Canada, Grani titled his next post “The Game Changer,” telling readers, “I’m not sure how many of you have tried to shred other brands of vegan cheese, but if you have, you’ve surely experienced the wet slimy mess that is the usual result. Not Daiya. For a long-time vegan just wanting to have a pizza that tastes like it has cheap, melty mozzarella, or a grilled cheese sandwich with bright orange cheddar like from your childhood, then Daiya is like manna from heaven.” In a later conversation with Maclean’s, Grani still can’t contain his enthusiasm: “You know those bags of pre-shredded Kraft nacho cheese? That’s the hit it gives. I hesitate to use the word umami because I don’t want to come off like a pretentious jerk, but it’s got that warm-your-heart, hard-to-explain flavour.”
As it turns out, the Canadian inventors are two vegan Vancouverites, Greg Blake and Andre Kroecher. In the U.S., Daiya is widely available for retail sale in half-pound bags. Blake explains why it’s so hard to find here: “There were label considerations in Canada. We’re not allowed to say the word cheese. We can’t say alternative cheese. We can’t say vegan cheese. I’ve been meaning to learn the whole story but I’ve been too busy making fake cheese,” he laughs.
On April 23, 34-year-old Ottawa civil servant Jennifer Whiteland was excited to be trying Daiya for the first time. She’d read about it but, “I had no idea it was Canadian. You can’t find it here.” But then Whiteland’s friend, Jill of The Vegan Backpacker blog, found it for her at Panacea, a health food store in Toronto that’s started buying Daiya in bulk, and repackaging it without the company’s official label.
Blake promises retail is coming “soon” to Canada. He’s sorry he can’t be more specific. Everyone wants to know. They’re inundated with calls. “I was trying to find out from our VP in marketing sales but he’s not answering his damn phone. I can’t blame him.”