Every time I hear, “I can’t go vegan because I couldn’t give up cheese!” I arrogantly reply, “I’d bet you don’t love cheese as much I did.”
So before I get into how Riverdel will make your vegan cheese shop dreams come true, I need to convey to you just how deep my love (or unhealthy obsession) of cheese goes.
Most “cheese lovers” are “cheese product” enthusiasts. They rarely eat anything beyond what goes on nachos or sandwiches. I’ve had this exchange countless times. The irony is that these folks wouldn’t be able to discern from many processed vegan cheeses from the dairy ones (trust me, I’ve tricked many, and yes I’m that vegan when it comes to cheese).
I’m being a pretentious ass because it’s likely true that I love cheese more than you. I have friends to this day who still don’t believe I gave up animal milk cheese, despite my being vegan for nearly a decade (since 2010 to be exact); that’s how much my identity is associated with cheese-eating.
Back in my dairy days, I always had stacked cheese chunks in the fridge. And not your usual uninspired catered cheese platter set of unsharp cheddar, bland-ass swiss, and what-Monterey-jack-is-exactly-tell-me (other than for nachos?) I’ve been a cheese snob since the single digits, experiencing cheeses that my father selected to please my visiting French grandmother. A friend once bought me a book on cheese, categorized by descriptions that most “But omg CHEESE” proclaimers wouldn’t even know. So shut yer American cheese holes because now I officially don’t miss that sort of udderly disgusting cheese.
I know, I know.
That’s very hard to believe.
But it’s exactly what the Austrian proprietor Micheala Grob behind Rivderdel set out to do: convert those but-OMG-cheesers into vegan believers.
So I must bow my cheesehead to Riverdel, THE vegan cheese shop in NYC. They’ve done it.
While I’ve managed to try a lot of small scale, artisan-made cheese at vegan pop-ups and shops over the years, Riverdel is the first to collect it all in one place. The best part (besides the cheese), is that the deli counter display is right by one of the main entrances to the new Essex Market in the Lower East Side. It’s super hard to miss. I love that vegan cheese is proudly (and loudly, visually speaking) being proclaimed to all the non-vegan patrons entering the market.
“Are you sure these are vegan? Cus they look like cheese…” says my astounded non-vegan friend. Just like him, often passersby exclaim, quite audibly, either amazement or dismay.
“Cashew based cheese? That’s upsetting,” exclaimed one.
I’m glad that it’s upsetting. It makes the vegan cheese taste that much better. This bold showcase really is a great example of passive yet actually effective vegan activism. Anything that normalizes veganism is vastly more effective than foisting imagery of animal cruelty on non-consenting audiences. Fight me on this if you dare.
Ok, so what about the cheese?
Amazing, the best you’ll ever get to try. They have participants from across the country like Vtopia from Portland along with locals like Cheezehound and Dr.Cow. Not to be outdone, Riverdel’s Austrian proprietor, Michaela Grob, creates cheeses that contend with the rest. My personal favorites at Riverdel are the housemade one that’s rolled in peppercorn (I forget the name), the Brie from Minneapolis’s Herbivorous Butcher, and virtually anything by Cheezehound, but in particular, the Blue, the Mozz, and the Garbage. I first tried her cheeses at Vegan Shop Up back in the early 2010s and immediately fell in love with both her and the cheese.
I usually strongly dislike cheeses that are flavored or rolled in flavors, but the classic Riverdel peppercorn works great. It has the consistency of a densely packed spread, a mild rich creaminess that coats the tongue then gets cut through with the peppercorn bite. The Cheezehound’s Blue really has that tangy, funky moldy blue taste, (I suspect spirulina gives the blue splotches), and creamy smooth texture I loved about blue cheese. Its saltiness and fattiness will please even the most unappreciative cheese eaters.
The Brie is another one of my favs because it really has a subtle brie taste – kinda mushroomy/mildewy ripeness. I know, gross description, but then mammalian milk brie is actually quite gross if you know what it is. While it looked nothing like brie, the flavor was getting there and it has the smoothest mouthfeel of all the cheeses I’ve tried. Though absolutely worth trying here, the best vegan Brie and Camembert I ever have had was actually at the VeganFest Berlin and now Nantes, France, respectively.
The Mozz by Cheezehound has that spongy rubbery texture almost down perfectly; the flavor is mildly sour and tangy and is served wet. Sure, it doesn’t probably taste exactly like the real thing, but I don’t give two cheesy fucks if it just tastes this damn good. And I know fresh mozzarella – my last goodbye to this cow’s milk cheese was me eating a three-quarter pound ball from a specialty vendor at the Union Square Farmer’s Market with a literal bouquet of basil (I like a lotta basil), a couple of juicy ripe tomatoes, and an entire freshly baked baguette. All in one sitting that lasted approximately an hour at least. And now I’m telling you I’d gladly do this all over again BUT with Cheesehound’s Mozz over rubberized moo goo any day.
I could go on, but fortunately, they offer samples and there’s no minimum weight for cheeses. Try before you buy!
They also have delicious sandwiches that are surprisingly cheap, at around 8 to 9 bucks each. Naturally, all sandwiches feature vegan cheeses and meats. My only complaint is that the bread, while of fresh bakery quality, is just too dense and chewy. Let’s just say that it challenged my friend’s biting ability.
But this is THE vegan cheese shop in NYC, first and foremost. So you better come here to eat vegan cheese. I recommend grabbing a selection (one could easily try three cheeses for around $10, or a bit more if splitting with a friend). Then go to any of the bakeries in the market and grab a not-too-chewy loaf of bread to eat your cheese with. These cheeses are too good for stale grocery store crackers.
Where Else to Find Artisan Vegan Cheese in NYC
If you’re looking for specialty vegan products that are hard to find, you’ve found your spot. More than half of the products I couldn’t recognize and wanted to try. Keep in mind that products are fairly pricey due to the expensive LES location. Since this post is all about cheese, I kindly direct your attention to the CHEESE FRIDGE in the photo below. Need I say more?
While you’re at it, you might want to grab one of Orchard Grocer’s delicious deli sandwiches. More about those in our Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition.
Dr. Cow creates organic and raw tree nut cheeses (mainly made from cashews, though some are made from macadamia nuts). Check out their cheese shop in Brooklyn if you don’t want to travel to Manhattan! Keep in mind that they sell only their own products, not the array that Riverdel or Orchard Grocer stocks.
Want more Brooklyn vegan eats? Check out post: A Local’s Budget Vegan Guide to Brooklyn.
Natural, Organic, and Health Food Stores
A plethora of natural food stores is sprinkled throughout the city. These are definitely worth checking out if any of the above options are too far and you need an artisanal vegan cheese fix, stat! Check out Happy Cow and filter by natural food stores to find one near you – you’d be surprised how many carry vegan cheese.