But don’t you miss cheese?
Cheese. It seems to be the most common thing that stands in the way of people going vegan: fear of missing cheese. I know; it was true for me. I loved cheese as much as the next person, and couldn’t imagine a life without a slab of brie on a crumpet, some bubbling cheddar on toast, a creamy chunk of Gouda with crackers, or a few sneaky slices of Red Leicester when preparing dinner. In my past life I’ve been known to eat most of a block of cheese the day I bought it. I’ll admit it – I was probably a bit of an addict.
In the end, my desire to be vegan overtook my desire for cheese and I took the plunge. The worry had plagued me for days; wouldn’t I just want to eat cheese all the time? But the moment I became vegan, something surprising happened. I didn’t miss cheese. Not at all. Not one bit. It simply wasn’t on the menu any more, and that was that – the lid had closed on that particular box.
A decision early on was to not go for substitutes. I just didn’t quite buy it – I’m not going to eat animal products, so why would I eat something pretending to be an animal product? No soy milk (I’d taken my tea black for years anyway), no tofurky, no ‘facon’. I knew it wouldn’t come close, so why would I even bother? And this proved to be my best decision. A birthday dinner in my first week of veganism was held at a pizza place (an odd choice, perhaps), but instead of feeling that I’d missed out, I had the best pizza of my life. I asked for no cheese and every single vegetable topping they had. Out came the most incredible display of tomato, garlic, aubergine, artichoke, olives and basil, dripping with oil. I could actually taste the bread for a change. And I easily finished the whole thing, no cheese sweats, no horrible feeling that my veins were surging with animal fat. Removing animal products was enhancing my eating experience, not taking away from it. Instead of cheese on my pasta, I would pour olive oil and salt – just like the Italians do. Heaven.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Several months in, I made the mistake of opening my sister’s fridge. The cheese box bulged with all the products I used to adore – and I had an overwhelming desire to slam most of them into my mouth right then and there. And that’s when I realised the power of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – my own fridge didn’t contain any of this stuff, so I simply didn’t think about it. It wasn’t abstinence, it was simply absence. It’s a mindset: I’m vegan, therefore I don’t eat cheese. End of.
At that time, my choice was aided by the fact that vegan cheese substitutes were pretty awful. Wouldn’t melt, tasted weird, looked wrong. The very few occasions when I did try, I would rarely finish the block. It was like putting cardboard on my toast. It’s possible to make a very tasty lasagne with a béchamel sauce made from dairy-free spread and almond milk. Add ‘cheese’ though, and it’s kind of ruined.
Things are slightly better now – there is some very passable ‘cheese’ out there. But still, I’d rather not. I absolutely love that most pizza restaurants now offer a vegan menu; at Pizza Express there’s even a choice! But the cheese just sits there in little melted blobs, it doesn’t string like it should, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth when you take a bite. It’s so unsatisfactorily like cheese that I still prefer to just go without.
So, my advice to anyone trying Veganuary or making a New Year’s resolution to cut down on animal products or anyone who is slightly V-curious, is don’t bother trying to replace cheese. It’s not going to be anywhere near what you want it to be, so it’s best to just not even try. You might be surprised at the results.
(Having said all of this, I recently bought a Violife block (original flavour), just out of curiosity. It was surprisingly good. And I found myself nibbling the block and cutting myself just *one* more piece at the end of the day. Seems the addict in me never really went away ;))