Damona Divine Cow dairy-free cheeses

Brie, Bocconcini and Pepperjack

Pros: Affordable, Australian-made, unique considering what else is available, relatively affordable

Cons: Coconut flavour is intense, seem to go off quickly

Handmade in Melbourne, I had contacted the creator of Damona Divine Cow cheeses when I heard they were being launched (at the CERES Melbourne Animal Liberation Victoria bake sale). They sold out far too quickly, before I got my hands on them, so I opted to go to Prahran Convenience when they were stocked officially. I actually ate and tried these a month or so ago, but it has taken me a while to get around to writing this, so if you haven’t tried these yet then they are now quite widely available.

The lovely Vincent over at the Facebook Vegan Cheese Reviews (who has very discerning tastes and is worth checking out) said they seemed like the Gentle Chef’s recipe and I felt a bit of Miyoko Schinner Artisan Vegan Cheese in them, so I imagine they’re inspired by those recipes.

I put them all in a cheese platter and, first things first, they look pretty incredible. I love different shapes, textures and tastes in a platter, so was pretty stoked with this.

It’s weird to me that they have a cow on the front of the packaging, which I suppose is some sort of tribute, but I generally find it a little disconcerting. In saying that, I love that they’re made locally in Melbourne and provide some different options and that they make you remember why you’ve opted for vegan cheese. There’s also a butter from Damona that I haven’t bought or tried, but hear good things about.

Bocconcini

In a jar, floating in brine, the pure white lumps of bocconcini are hardier than they appear. On the way home they seemed to almost disintegrate into the brine — the liquid becoming cloudy, but upon resting all was fine, so if this happens to yours it’s nothing to worry about.

The first thing I did, was pull a piece out and try it uncooked. Yes, this isn’t really how bocconcini is eaten, but I always like to try a bit how it is when it comes. Unsurprisingly, it’s not so great raw — the mouth feel is a bit too squeaky and thick and almost powdery, so while I added it to a cheese platter to see how it would go it definitely wouldn’t be my choice next time.

The next, and most obvious way, to eat it was… on pizza. And let me tell you it was good. It melts really well due to its coconut oil component and is creamy and thick on a pizza.

My simple pizza base recipe is mixing gluten free flour, mixed dried herbs, garlic powder, soy milk, salt, pepper and a touch of nutritional yeast and mixing to a good base. Pre-cook the base, add a simple tomato mix and allow this simplicity to set the cheese off. I actually cut the cheese into smaller pieces to use it, as I found it came in very huge chunks.

I was really impressed with this and it is easily my favourite of all three of the cheeses, being closest to a ‘dairy’ cheese but also one of the most unique offerings available of most brands. That’s a pretty big thumbs up… it’s a revelation. Go and buy and eat this and be merry — you’re welcome.

Pepperjack

Yellow and a good colour, flecked throughout with slightly spicy peppers, on first tasting I was pretty sure this was going to be my favourite — though it soon became a bit too much and overwhelming. I do love how it looks though, with the little gems of chili pepper throughout.

The first taste is a little peppery, but you’re quickly hit with an overwhelming coconutty taste on the back palate. If you don’t like coconut flavours you’re going to struggle with this cheese as an odd blend between savoury and sweet.

You can’t grate it as it’s quite soft, but can easily spread it. Once under the toaster, it does melt and works best when added with some other strong flavours (onion, dijon mustard and so on). I also melted a bit into a sauce, which worked well but you couldn’t taste it much.

It’s thick and sticks in the mouth like peanut butter, but is an interesting addition to a cheese platter overall — providing something a little like a gooey sticky camembert texture. I feel like there should be more I can do with this cheese and I wouldn’t mind attempting the freezing-grating-adding to pizza technique in the future that I often try with meltable soft cheeses.

Brie

It’s very soft and in a round wheel shape that works beautifully on a platter. This is a cheese that works well in small chunks and on crusty bread and therefore makes sense for serving up at a dinner party — much like your dairy brie.

Clingwrapped, it is delicate and the outside has this slight rind-look to it, that is attractive and unusual. It does melt easily, so on my way home started to squidge out of its shape, but I managed to salvage it into the fridge quick enough. It’s creamy, but it certainly wasn’t my type of cheese because of the flavour.

It’s lovely to have a brie option — I haven’t tried a single other vegan brie as they’re very rare, but I was never a fan of the dairy brie and the vegan version is not my type of cheese either.

My wife liked it. I think my dislike is a result of the miso ingredient, which I only like in certain things and often find has a taste I find a bit dirty. It’s fine when eaten with other things, such as strong olive flavours, but I wouldn’t be eating slices of it alone in a hurry. In all fairness, brie lovers seem to have taken to the internet by storm to declare how good this cheese is — so if brie is what you’re missing, definitely try this one out.

One commendable aspect is that it is super creamy — something quite hard to achieve in dairy free cheeses. It reminds me a little of the texture of Kinda Cheese/A Vegan Smile’s Kale Muenster (review pending), which is soy based.

Clearly, I didn’t like the last two that much as they went mouldy in the fridge after a week or so — a bit of a bad sign with this cheese lover. I usually wait until I’ve eaten all of the cheese and used it in different ways before reviewing it and it normally doesn’t take too long for me to find new things to cook it in, so this was a bit of a shame.

It’s worth buying them to try them out. While I’ll definitely be buying the bocconcini again, I’ll likely save the other two for a big cheese bonanza, perhaps with non-vegans. Having the option is great, but they’re really just not for me.

I am, in saying this, excited to see some of the other options. The Facebook postings of the maker have included a dill havarti, smoked provolone, ripened cheddar and a baked almond feta (be still my beating heart!) that look as though they’d be more appealing to my tastes. I am hugely excited to see these hopefully making their way to shelves soon.

The price

Can be bought via Vegan Online, Wild Things, Aunt Maggie’s, The Leaf Store, Everything Vegan and the Cruelty Free Shop now as well, though I believe Prahran Convenience were the first to stock it (as per usual). At $7.95 each, they reckon that a serve is 25 grams and there’s 10 serves per pack — I really query whether that’s correct when it comes to the bocconcini (pretty sure I had more than 50 grams), but that’s packaging for you. The prices range up to $10.20 (Cruelty Free Shop).

It’s amazingly cheaper than other cheese, but it’s not your bread and butter everyday block (such as Bio Cheese), so it’s not going to be something you likely have in the house all the time. I’d perhaps opt for the bocconcini on a regular basis (it also seems to last longer), which on pizza is cheaper than Daiya, though a very different effect.

The ingredients

Bocconcini: (250 grams) Brine (water, Himalaya salt), cultured soy milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, carrageenan, Himalaya salt, White wine vinegar, lemon juice

Pepperjack: (250 grams) Cultured soy milk, coconut oil, tapioca starch, nutritional yeast, apple vider vinegar, carrageenan, Himalayan salt, red and green chilli, mustard powder

Brie: (200 grams) Cultured soy milk, cocnut oil, tapioca starch, miso, apple cider vinegar, carrageenan, Himalaya salt

The nutritional value

Carrageenan has a debate raging about whether it’s healthy or not, but it’s common in vegan cheeses. I’m on the fence about it, but it really doesn’t bother me enough to be concerned. It uses primarily organic ingredients and avoids gluten (though coeliacs should note that the facility handles gluten), though does obviously contain a lot of soy. There’s a fair helping of fat in there too, but I actually find that with these cheeses less is more — better for the waistline, the taste and the wallet. It’s great that there is no palm oil as well.

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