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vegan cheese and me

December 5, 2012

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My first attempt to go vegan five years ago failed primarily because I had the wrong attitude to cheese.  I thought that all I had to do was find some decent cheese analogues.  This had worked for me with meat, so why not with cheese?

I know why not, actually.  I was a typical lacto-ovo, reared on dairy and as a result completely over-reliant on cheese as the focal ingredient of most of my meals.

Have you heard what some nutritionists say about the physically addictive effects of casein?  The idea is that when your body breaks down cheese proteins, casomorphins are released into your bloodstream.  This is why cheese tastes so goooooood.  It’s hardly surprising that the Playdoh-esque lumps of solidified vegetable fats on sale in health food stores are a poor form of methadone for us cheese junkies.

Through trial and error I learned that the thing to do is not to try to replace it.  Embrace the cheeseless pizza and the parmesanless pasta.  Work umami into your meals and when you really want the mac n’ cheese experience, rather than make a cheesy sauce, make a sauce that hits the same kind of savoury notes as cheese.  It is a subtle distinction but anyone who has ever tasted nutritional yeast will know what I mean.

So, in this state of equilibrium Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Mishimoto Schinner came into my life just when I didn’t want it to.  And oh! It has turned my world upside down.  In a good way.  I think.

There are some pretty wild claims being made for this book, in particular that the cheeses are Indistinguishable From The Real Thing.  I am sure I am not the only vegan to be sceptical whenever I hear assertions like these.  Especially about Brie – I mean, It’s Brie!  You can’t fake Brie.  You just can’t.

Curiosity pricked, I found online sources for all the arcane ingredients (carrageenan? yummy) and embarked on the long process of soaking and blending and fermenting.  After a week I had made boursin, chèvre, tangy cheddar, air-dried cheddar and cashew cream cheese.

And you know what?  They are very, very good.  They are not cheese.  But they are the most umami-mouthfilling tasty lumps of cheeselike substance I have ever tried.  Unlike any shop-bought cheese analogue, they are actually moreish.  The tangy cheddar is completely delicious, I can’t stop eating it.  And there are moments – particularly, I found, with the chèvre and cream cheeses – when you open your eyes mid-chew and say, ‘Good god!  It’s cheese.’ Then some other note hits you and you realise it isn’t.  But in that moment, you are there.

Something I can do with these cheeses (which I could never do with commercial vegan cheese) is eat a big wedge on freshly baked bread with a glass of wine, and pretend I am sitting in the grass at a dusty roadside in Ardennes.  I could never do that with Cheezly!

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As ingredients I think they will be incredibly useful.  I am thinking about dishes that I would never consider making with commercial fake cheeses.  I am thinking about a classic type of vegetarian pie, like a homity.  I am thinking about vegetable and feta-esque quiche.  The possibilities are endless!  I’m looking forward to more experimentation over the months to come.

I still can’t bring myself to try the Brie though.

Artisan Vegan Cheese: From Everyday To Gourmet is on sale now.  I haven’t had any freebies or incentive to promote the book, I wouldn’t do that to you

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From → Thoughts

9 Comments
  1. Wow, this is inspiring. Brave you, and nicely done. I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and have yet to look around yours, but it looks yummy!

  2. You write so good! I got totally sucked into your story, haha. I also try to eat as many vegan meals as possible, but the cheese… oh, the cheese… Guess I’ll have to try this one, and the nutritional yeast of course, I’ve heard so many good things about it.

    • Thank you! Yes the cheese thing can be a challenge. But once you get it out of your system you don’t even crave it any more, I promise 😉

  3. Rachel permalink

    The Brie is SO good! Definitely worth a try!

  4. I very much enjoyed reading this and I now have to go get this book! Boursin…I want some for my flax crackers!

    • The boursin is good stuff. I think it’s raw too, if I remember correctly.

      • My husband is going to say, “not another cookbook”, but I plan on getting it this week 🙂 Thank you again for the great article!

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