I’ve read several times that prospective vegans worry about giving up cheese, but that after a couple of weeks without it, they suddenly started to find it rancid, repulsive and disgusting and are never tempted again.
I think they are probably lying.
A decent cheese is without a doubt the thing I’ve missed the most. (Although if I’d been running, I might have struggled more with the lack of jelly snakes and the like. My sugar cravings ended with my marathon training, thankfully). Everything is made better by a sprinkle of the yellow stuff – burgers, pasta, sandwiches, salads, baked beans. Without cheese I feel slightly incomplete.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be my downfall! Because there is such a thing as vegan cheese! I first tried vegan cheese about ten years ago, and it was a very different substance to what it is now. Composed mainly of vegetable oils and vomit yellow in colour, it looked and tasted much like a block of fermented margarine. When I tried to cut off a slice and melt it on to a pizza, it simply liquified, as margarine would. Basically, it was just margarine (which I hate) with something added to make it even more gross than it normally is.
Ten years later, and vegan cheese has come along a lot. The majority of the cheaper brands, which you’ll find in supermarkets and health food stores, are made from a base of coconut oil and some other stuff that makes it taste more cheese like and not at all coconut like. For some reason they are all called stupid misspellings of “cheese” like Cheeze or Chease or even Sheese. Although the ingredients seem to be much the same for all the brands I’ve seen, the end products vary greatly. The worse I’ve tried (Violife cheddar slices) tasted like someone had crushed a bag of Cheesy Wotsits and stirred them into a block of marge, the best (Follow Your Heart Smoked Gouda) could be mistaken for real cheese at a push (perhaps if fed to someone who was a bit drunk) and is certainly good enough to be eaten on its own. All have the “cheesy wotsit” taste to some degree, but when blended with the smoked taste of the gouda or the herbs of the Pepperjack variety, it becomes a lot more palatable.
But there is another, completely different, kind of vegan cheese: cashew cheese. I treated myself to three cheeses from the Tyne Chease (“chease” ffs why not just call it vegan cheese?) mail order, at an eyewatering cost of £20+. They had better be equally mouthwatering at that price, I thought.
Fortunately, I was not disappointed. In a way, the cashew cheese is less cheese-like than the coconut cheese, but it is much nicer. It has a creamy, paté-like texture and a very natural favour without any hint of cheesy wotsits. It stands as a Thing in its own right without trying too hard to be dairy cheese. I bought the smoked, mustard and cream cheese with chilli varieties and the first two were gone within a couple of days, gobbled up with cream crackers. I imagine they would work well in sandwiches or as a topping although I have no idea how well they melt (if I was more dedicated to writing this blog than stuffing my face I would have saved some as an experiment but too late now) and I certainly don’t think you would be able to grate them. The chilli variety has lasted longer so is a more cost effective option, partly because it spreads and goes further and partly because there are a fuckload of chilli flakes in it and it does rather take your head off.
The existence of cashew cheese definitely makes going permavegan a more attractive option.