ANY WOMAN WHO’S ever dated me will happily attest to the fact that I’m probably the cheesiest bloke on the planet. I was actually once told that I couldn’t possibly be a vegan because I’m so cheesy! Frankly, I think I’m just an incurable romantic but apparently, I undeniably know about cheese, so it was no shock when I had something of a cheesy epiphany yesterday, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) for the ladies, it was about the dairy kind.
I’d sort of invited myself to Editor Steel’s place out in the wilds of Helensville to sample some of Angel Food’s new vegan mozzarella. The ever-gracious Mr. Steel and his lovely and extraordinarily hospitable wife Yoko fed me lashings of fresh water kefir and scrumptious vegan cupcakes before we got to the main event, which was a pizza dinner.
Yoko’s quite the chef, so of course it goes without saying that the pizza was superb. Using freshly-made dough that was put together from scratch, tomatoes and basil from the garden and the aforementioned faux-cheese, and served nuclear-hot straight from the oven, it was like eating at a great New York pizza joint. The base was amazing but the cheese wasn’t quite like real Mozzarella; it was too thin and runny for that but it did definitely add the cheesy taste that’s a vital part of the pizza experience. Or is it?
After eating more slices than I should have, I remembered that a second pizza was on the way. Yoko had run out of the mozzarella, so this one was to be a cheese-free version covered in onion, cucumber and herbs. Much to my surprise, the second pizza was more enjoyable than the first (and I forgot to shoot it because I was so excited).
Admittedly, the homemade dough had once again emerged from the oven as one of the tastiest pizza bases I’ve ever had. In fact, I could have just eaten the bases of both pizzas with a dash of olive oil and salt, and been happy as Larry, but it was more than that. The second pizza’s flavours were subtler and more interesting than the first. Without the intensity of the cheese, I could really appreciate the other tastes, and that statement is totally verified by me eating about two thirds of the second pizza by myself (hey it was a gym day – carbs are my friends).
This got me thinking. One of the most common objections to going vegan is the old cheese excuse: “Oh maybe I could give up meat but I’d miss cheese far too much”.
My freaky-deaky personality quirks allow me to give up ANYTHING right NOW (at least when it comes to food), so I don’t get cravings at all, which means I can’t quite identify with that mindset. But I do register that I’m a touch odd, and that other people may well desperately miss cheese, and might just find the dairy-free substitutes somewhat lacking.
I’ve eaten vegan mozzarella in the USA that looked, tasted, smelled and stretched like mozzarella, and there are other cheese substitutes that are darn close but do we even need them? I’d say probably not, but bear with me here. Over the holiday season, a gluten-free vegan friend and myself were too lazy to cook dinner, so we ordered in from Hell Pizza. I’ve had Hell’s vegan standard pizza and it’s not really my thing being loaded with refried beans.
However, under expert guidance I ordered a basic cheese-free pizza and just went crazy adding vegetables, sauces and other options. It was utterly delicious! Again without the cheese casting its fatty presence over everything, the other flavours were free to mingle and create a synergistic symphony of contrasts and harmonies – sundried tomatoes against capers, chili cooled by avocado etc. etc. It was so good that I had to try it again a few days later, and it was even better with some subtle changes. Would I add cheese to my new custom mix even if I could? Not a chance, because I wouldn’t want to lose those contrasts. If Yoko was making more pizza, I’d ask her nicely to lose the imitation cow stuff.
Which brings me back to the original question – to cheese or not to cheese? I’d say not. If you’re holding off from trying the vegan lifestyle because of a cheese addiction, I can only suggest that you try losing the cheese occasionally and see what you think. Flag the brie on a sandwich and try avocado and good hummus instead, try a cheese free pizza, or even pasta sans parmesan but with a tasty herb pesto instead. You might just be as surprised as I was at how good things taste without dairy. And you can always add in a little bit of a cheese substitute now and then, but I predict that you might find you simply don’t want to. ASHLEY KRAMER
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