Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Cheese, glorious cheese. If I had a quarter for every person I met who swears they could go vegan if it didn’t mean giving up cheese, I could buy myself a moped. Or at least an outfit that would make me look fantastic on a moped. 

Ask around. Many people, when sharing what foods make their knees quiver, you’ll find that many of their favourites include cheese somehow, somewhere. Pasta. Pizza. Cheesecake. Cheeseburgers. Poutine. Cream cheese. Vegan politics aside, I would imagine that the young man or woman who first agitated milk in such a way that produced curds figured largely in their family's holiday papyrus that year. They were onto something. 

So here I am, several months into veganhood, and nary a morsel of cheese has passed my lips (save for my slip last week). Do I miss it? Sure. Do I lie awake with dewy eyes, clutching a photo of a gooey lasagna? No. Like Darwin’s finches, one adapts. Despite a craving or two (hundred), the foods I have introduced in lieu of dairy of far exceed it in terms of health and flavour. Besides, most cheeses are full of saturated fats and don’t tread too lightly on your colon. 

I was speaking to a friend last week that had been vegan for almost twenty years. Back then, you were lucky if your local grocer carried soymilk, never mind the mass of dairy and meat substitutes most stores now carry. Today, faux cheese in just about every permutation is available. Heck, I even saw vegan Brie on a recent trip to Toronto. 

Several vegan cookbooks have recipes to make cheese substitutions. I’ve tried a couple, with uninspiring results. It can be a labour intensive process, and I’m a busy gal. However, last month’s Vegetarian Times carried a cache of recipes on making your own dairy-free cheese, and it’s on my to-do list.  Right after learning how to do the windmill and eliminating world poverty. 

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite store-bought vegan uncheeses. Note that many “vegetarian” cheeses are formulated with lactose-intolerant consumers in mind; many contain rennet or casein (animal enzymes and proteins, respectively). Check the labels.

YOSO Cream Cheese: This was a pleasant surprise. This consistency and texture of this product is identical to cream cheese, and tastes lush and creamy. A bit sweeter than your dairy-based cream cheese, but rendered near-perfectly. Available in several different flavours. Bonus to non-vegans: this product is cholesterol and trans-fat free. 

Parma! Vegan Parmesan: I had tasted a few fake parms – most were plain weird at best and gag-inducing at worst. This was by far the best. Parma! uses organic walnuts and nutritional yeast to somehow make a product remarkably like fresh parmesan. Health bonus: Organic, raw and lists “love” as an ingredient. Now that’s cheesy.

Vegan Gourmet Cheese: The problem with many brick vegan cheeses is they don’t melt. It’s rather eerie. They usually retain a rubbery texture and simply aren’t worth the money or dashed hopes. Brought to you by the sly culinary alchemists who make Vegenaise (the starlet of my killer vegan Caesar salad dressing), this one kicks up vegan cheese making a notch. Melts wonderfully and comes in a variety of flavours (the Nacho is especially tasty). The ingredients list a vegan calcium supplement, too. 

Next on Gone Vegan: Vegan babies are healthy babies.