Years before I moved out here to America’s Dairyland, I was an unashamed, unabashed cheesehead (and not the football-fan type). I enjoyed the tang of provolone, the creamy richness studded with bites of spice in a slice of pepper jack, the sharp saltiness of cheddar. Like so many vegetarians, I pulled the “I could never go vegan – I love cheese!” card for more than a few years. Once I opened my eyes and learned about the cruelty involved in dairy farming, though, I realized that I was being selfish. I’d gone vegetarian because my personal ethics and morals told me that eating animals wasn’t right, so how could I continue to support a system that inflicted cruelty on animals? How could I justify the momentary pleasure of a cracker spread with brie or a salad laden with feta when I knew the pain that had gone into creating those cheeses? I couldn’t. In my “effectively vegan” phase, I didn’t eat cheese, and I found that, hey, I didn’t miss it! Once I made the “official” switch to veganism (which, after all, wasn’t so different than the other phase), I realized that saying goodbye to cheese hadn’t been nearly as bad as I’d thought it would be. It was a clean break, so to speak; no tears were shed on either end and no angsty poetry was written about our split.
The idea of vegan cheese (or cheeze, or uncheese) is something I’ve sort of glanced at out of the corners of my eyes; I know it’s there, and I nominally acknowledge its existence, but I’ve never faced it full-on. Early in my days of effective veganism, when I was testing the waters, I bought what I thought was a bag of shredded vegan cheese, only to discover casein lurking in the ingredient list. Hmm, no wonder it melted so well! Other than that and the occasional tub of Better than Cream Cheese, though, I’ve not ever been truly tempted to try a vegan cheese. Sometimes at the grocery store I’ll linger by the Follow Your Heart or the Tofutti slices and imagine quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches and eggplant parmesan, but ultimately the price tag sends me down another aisle, cheese-less. I’m a cheapskate; what can I say?
And beyond my feelings that the price tag doesn’t justify whatever tiny desire I have to try a vegan cheese is the thought that it’s just really unnecessary. I get by damn fine on a diet that’s heavy on healthy and whole foods, so why throw something processed into the mix when it’s not necessary? Vegan cheeses aren’t exactly what I’d call health foods, and if I don’t particular crave them or want them, why would I buy them for novelty’s sake? That’s silly.
And now I’m going to contradict everything I just said. :) When Chicago Soy Dairy twittered about a contest to try one of their new products, I was intrigued. I retweeted their post, and by some luck of the cheezy gods, I was one of the winners. And by winners, I mean “people who got to try Teese’s new mozzarella recipe.” Ooer!
As my previous ramblings may have indicated, I’ve never actually tried Teese’s *old* mozzarella recipe. So, really, I had no point of comparison when giving this stuff a shot. Chicago Soy Dairy just wanted my honest opinion on the product. I figured, coming from such a vegan-cheese-virginal standpoint, I would not be tainted by any pesky intimate knowledge of other cheeses.
A few days ago a box arrived from Chicago, and along with a sticker and some cute pins (woo!), I received my first-ever tube of vegan cheese. Now, I’m not gonna lie – that tube freaked me out a bit. Unrefrigerated, tubular cheese? Umm… eek! But I was game for it, so after dropping off/checking out some library books, I picked up some supplies at the local grocery store. For my first-ever vegan cheese experience, I made something I’ve been craving for a while.
Eggplant sandwiches, with tomatoes and basil and – whoa there! – mozzarella! My dad used to make these every so often, and they were always so. freaking. good. that I couldn’t resist trying my hand at them. I’ll admit that I forgot to buy fresh tomatoes, so I used some leftover Muir Glen fire-roasted tomaters, and that actually worked just fine. And the mozzarella?
Well. Welllll, I’m going to be honest here. When I opened up that tube, I was met with a powerful odor that was eerily reminiscent of dairy cheese and that freaked me the crap out. I almost chickened out at that point! But I persevered, cut some slices of the mozzarella, and threw them on my sandwich. Unfortunately, I had to take my sandwiches out of the oven before they burned, so the cheese didn’t get super melty.
And the taste? Well – it was mild, and pretty similar to the mozzarella I remember, but definitely not identical. By itself, I don’t think you’d confuse it with the “real” thing. It worked well in the sandwich, though; as I sort of forgot what I was eating, I had this weird sensory-memory where I felt as if I were chomping on one of the sandwiches of my youth – the flavors all blended together, and when I didn’t think about the cheese as a separate entity but as part of the sandwich, it added that perfect bite of creamy saltiness to the combined flavors. Y’know what I mean? Good.
I will also say that when I reheated the other half of the sandwich the next day at work, the cheese melted and looked so legit that I felt compelled to hide it from view – what if people thought I was eating rEaL cHeEsE?!? Silly, I know, but the idea of the occasional vegan who makes exceptions for cheese is not one I want to associate with myself.
So, overall? This cheese can play a very particular role very well. I bet it’d be great on pizza with lots of yummy vegetable toppings, when all the flavors can mix and meld. That’s when it works best. Hmm… maybe that’ll be my next Teese endeavor. I’ve still got 4/5 of a tube left, after all.
I feel like I’m supposed to make some sort of disclaimer here. Chicago Soy Dairy sent me their cheese to try, but I was under no obligation to blog about it – they just wanted honest feedback. Okay, um, disclaimer = made.