Years before I went vegan I was vegetarian, and for the longest time my last major holdout was cheese.
The stuff is admittedly delicious.
And even though I knew it was horrible for my health, the environment, and the cows, I felt as though I was addicted.
Knowing this and wanting to be vegan, I tried to find good substitutes. After all, veggie burgers weaned me off beef, almond milk was more delicious to me than cow’s milk, and even other fake meats sufficed in times when I was really jonesing.
So one summer on Cape Cod, my friends and I picked up a package of “rice cheese.” This was 6 or 7 years ago and this seemed to be the best available option on the shelf.
We took it back to our house and opened up a few slices to try.
And it. was. disgusting.
Truly gross. Terrible flavor, awful texture. Just unpalatable.
We tossed the slice out onto a trail in the woods (we lived on a nature sanctuary). Over the next few days I’d pass this slice everyday on my walk to work, and after a week it hadn’t been touched.
Not one bite, nibble. No insect or ants swarming. Nothing.
It was clear. Nature had decided. THIS IS NOT FOOD.
In that moment I declared “I guess cheese is just the one thing they can’t replicate.”
I resigned myself to needing to simply give up that flavor altogether in order to be vegan, and it took me a few years before I could finally let it go.
Well, the funny thing is a lot has changed in the last 6 or 7 years. Not only have meat substitutes become so good they trick meat eaters (I just tricked an entire Final Four party with Gardein Chik’n Tenders — no one could tell they weren’t meat!), but cheese substitutes have officially arrived.
There are a few brands I’ve tried and actually enjoy. Daiya was the original brand where I started to think “ok maybe they’re onto something…”
The latest is Follow Your Heart. My parents love this stuff and while I’m staying with them I have to say I indulge as well. The flavor and texture is spot on.
More artisanal options are popping up everyday as well. In Minneapolis the world’s first vegan butcher shop, The Herbivorous Butcher, sells incredible vegan cheeses that I promise you would fool your most diehard cheese addict.
It appears 2016 is the year to surrender to vegan cheese.
As an illustration of just how good these alternatives are, I present the case of my father.
Growing up he and I shared a Sunday afternoon tradition where we would make what he dubbed the “perfect lunch,” which was a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.
Long after I went vegan he kept this tradition alive, and I was bummed I could no longer participate.
Those days are over.
Today his perfect lunches are entirely vegan! He’s switched to Annie’s vegan tomato soup (which he claims is better than his beloved Campbell’s!) and his grilled cheese sandwiches are now entirely made with Follow Your Heart vegan cheeses!
If he’s making vegan grilled cheese sandwiches and still calling in the “perfect lunch,” you can bet this stuff is good.
If cheese is your last holdout before going vegan, or maybe ditching dairy is your first step into veganism, explore the world of vegan cheeses. We are lightyears away from the days of rice cheese rotting on a wooded trail. This stuff is good.
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