I wasn’t always like this. I used to love cheese. Live for it.
Four years ago, when my husband’s parents very generously gave us money towards a trip to Paris, my first thought was: Fromage. Of course, I wanted to stroll cobblestone streets in the light rain, see the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to resurrect my high school knowledge of the French language and see if I could work, “Allons-y au banque!” ("Let’s go to the bank!") into everyday conversation. But if I’m really being honest, that trip to Paris was all about the cheese.
Rich, creamy, nutty, dairy goodness. Knowing the French food pyramid basically consists of different cheeses — blue, chevre, and Gruyere — I couldn’t wait to make my way from top to bottom and back again. In France, did you know that it’s entirely acceptable to eat brie — and only brie — as a meal? We did this. More than once.
So how did I go from an all-out cheese vacation to a fridge full of cashew cheddar? I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16. It was the perfect compromise for me because my love for animals was rivaled only by my love for cheese. I never missed eating meat. I knew I would miss cheese.
I liked the idea of being vegan, I just knew, very clearly, that I could never, ever give up Swiss, mozzarella, and Parmesan. I wasn’t sad about it; it was just a fact I knew to be true. Like gravity (or CLIMATE CHANGE).
After we got back from Paris, I signed up for a vegan cooking class in Los Angeles. I was vegan-curious. There, to my surprise, I discovered good fake cheese. Homemade tofu feta, cashew cream sauces, pine nut pizza toppings. It was easy. I didn’t have to fill my pantry with scary ingredients like agar agar powder — which is also a thing, by the way.
This was possible.
I decided to make the leap. I had fun with it — I viewed it as a challenge — How will I make my Italian mother’s lasagna recipe without real ricotta? I started experimenting, but I didn’t talk about it to anyone. I felt cheese shame. I didn’t want to be one of those smug vegans because I GET IT. I get that eating Humboldt Fog rivals the experience of falling in love.
I made tofu quiche topped with cashew crema. I bought Kite Hill ricotta and stirred in chopped, fresh basil and grey salt for a creamy, herbed spread on a baguette when I had friends over. No one asked what it was, but by the end of the night, it was gone.
I discovered really, really delicious cheese substitutes — they keep inventing new, better ones — like Go Veggie Parm and Field Roast Chao — which, in case you're feeling adventurous, makes a killer grilled cheese.
It got to the point where I no longer even missed real cheese. I didn’t even want it. I’d sit with a friend as she ate a caprese sandwich and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
Then the unbelievable happened; I found myself preferring fake cheese to the real thing.
Recently, we had two foodie friends over for dinner — I made vegan pizzas and Greek salad with a lemony-herbed tofu feta.