Probably 80% of the time when I tell someone that I’m vegan the first words out of that person’s mouth are, “I could not live without cheese!” The other 20% of reactions are usually about steak or bacon, sometimes in a mean-spirited way and sometimes not. Today, though, I wanted to talk a little about the cheese thing, since it seems to be what gets folks the most.
I will not lie to you: giving up cheese was probably the toughest part of going vegan for me. Cheese is delicious, and I had what you might call a “cheese problem.” I loved it, but it did not love me. Instead, it played heavily into my high cholesterol. At age 25, my cholesterol was over 250! This was a complete shock, since I was a normal weight and got plenty of exercise riding my bike to and from work every day.
When I cut dairy out of my diet, my cholesterol dropped from insanely high for my age and size to a normal level somewhere between 180 and 190.
All of that is fantastic, but it didn’t make giving up cheese much easier. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of quitting smoking. I craved it and was a little grumpy at first. Store-bought fake cheeses couldn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Times were tough until one day I discovered something that helped. There was one food that worked in the vast majority of dishes that were begging for cheese. It quelled my cravings and didn’t taste fake.
That food was avocado.
From sandwiches to salads to no queso quesadillas, avocados saved the day! In really desperate moments, I even diced some up and ate it plain with a fork. It got me through the tough cheese withdrawal stages.
The other vegan staple with a cheesy taste that doesn’t get enough cred is nutritional yeast. You can find nutritional yeast in the bulk bin at most health food stores. Try sprinkling it onto pasta or salads like Parmesan cheese or mixing it with other ingredients to make a faux cheese sauce. You can even substitute nutritional yeast one-to-one for the Parmesan cheese in any pesto recipe!
There are some excellent cheese substitutes out there for folks looking to give these a whirl. Follow Your Heart makes a few types of vegan cheese that melt. There is also a new brand, Daiya, that makes an insanely good faux cheese from tapioca of all things! Daiya cheese is even soy free, if that’s a concern for you.
Have any of you thought about going vegan but run into a stumbling block? I’d love to hear what issues have stood in your way.