Adventures with Vegan Cheese
A few years ago, I wrote a story about the benefits of a vegan diet. I interviewed Neil Barnard, M.D., founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and considered by many to be the “peaceful warrior” of the vegan movement.
“So what’s keeping you from going vegan?” he asked.
“I love cheese,” I admitted. “I can’t imagine giving it up for good.” I didn’t mention that vegan cheese was unlikely to cut it for me.
“Well, it’s addictive, you know,” he replied. “That’s why it’s so hard for people to give it up.”
Now, this isn’t just the claim of a guy who espouses a plant-based diet. Barnard is a solid researcher, and it turns out cheese (along with other foods) may exert an opiate-like affect on the brain. You eat more, so you crave more.
If cheese is an occasional treat enjoyed in moderation, it’s not so bad. But as Barnard explained, America’s cheese consumption surpassed moderation long ago. It has blossomed into a national addiction encouraged by the USDA through such initiatives as Dairy Management, an industry- and government-funded marketing initiative to promote cheese.
As a result, Americans’ cheese consumption has skyrocketed to three times what it was in 1970, up from 8 pounds per person per year then to 24 pounds per person, per year now. The numbers are even more dramatic when you consider that your grand-grandparents were nibbling an average of just 4 pounds of cheese a year in 1909.
The really sad part? Most what we’re eating today is cheap cheese — plastic-like, mass-produced junk stuffed into fast-food fare. Do we really need pizza crust stuffed with cheese because the pound of cheese on top isn’t enough?
And although I still love cheese, I really don’t need to eat 2 pounds of it a month. I’d like to cut back and save my cheese “budget” for the good stuff.
So far, vegan cheese hasn’t been a great substitute to bridge the gap. Friends have been kind enough to suggest vegan cheeses I should try. “You’ll love this one,” they promise. “That one tastes just like real cheese.”
Well … not quite. Until recently, my brush with vegan cheese has been disappointing — odd tastes, odder textures, the best akin to Velveeta.
But lately I’ve noticed an interesting trend: Vegan cheesemaking, like vegan baking, is going uptown, with chefs using nuanced ingredients and traditional cheesemaking techniques — plus some new techniques — to create great results using plant-based ingredients.
This soft, nut-based vegan cheese from Tess Masters’ new book, The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts and Drinks (Ten Speed Press) is a good intro to the world of plant-based cheese. The soaked nuts give it creamy heft, while the addition of white miso paste and tamari lend it a cheese-like hit of umami.
Truth is, I love the stuff. Does it mean I’ll never nibble a Dutch Gouda or a French bleu again? Probably not. But for everyday satisfaction, this will do.
(Want to check out Masters’ book for yourself? Head on over the NOURISH Network to enter the cookbook giveaway for a free copy of The Blender Girl.)