An ode to cheese – Is vegan cheese all it’s cracked up to be?

Is vegan cheese all it’s cracked up to be?

I recently learned a fundamental truth. No matter what your dietary principles, it’s damn near impossible to give up cheese. We in the West have so many positive emotional attachments to cheese, from nibbling Christmas Stilton on our father’s knee as a child, to sharing a homemade fondue with adult friends. If Baz Luhrmann were writing his Sunscreen today, he would say: ‘Know this – Cheese is Life’. And he’d be right.

Thinking that there must be a way around this I went (with a long-suffering and very supportive Darren) to a cheese tasting event for vegans. I’ve seen the recipes for vegan cheese peppering Pinterest, and I thought that with a little know-how I too could churn out a cashew Camembert that would quiet the cheese devil inside me. Sadly, it was not to be. While the vegans around us were tucking in with great gusto, I remained unmoved. Vegan soft cheeses are very, very soft. And gritty. And oddly all seem to resemble cashew-based humous. Because that’s basically what they are. There’s no magical transformation from nut to cheese. They are essentially a bland flavourless paste. Vegan chefs add nooch, or nutritional yeast, for flavour but that lends a somewhat offensive cheesiness more akin to day-old socks, and the sense that you shouldn’t eat too much. There was certainly no oh-just-one-more-bite moreishness to vegan cheese, and even the vegans themselves left plenty on the plate. (Including cheese toasties – I mean, who leaves a free cheese toastie? Are you some kind of animal?)

Rebecca eating cheese
Vegan cheese tasting

The Taste Test

The bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth – which let’s face it was preferable to vegan cheese at least – I headed home to regroup and come up with a new strategy. Which is this: Know your enemy. In the war that is my digestive system versus the world, knowing my enemy was soon to become half of the battle. Some cheeses, it turns out, are naturally lactose-free.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

It’s still possible to eat real, pukka cheese and avoid lactose. There are just a few simple rules:

  • Don’t feed your Mogwai after midnight.
  • I’m kidding. Avoid soft, fresh cheeses. These will be higher in lactose.
  • Stick to hard, mature cheeses that have been around a while. (The same goes for dating. Oops, did I say that out loud?)
  • If you can find out the sugar – or even better the lactose – content of a cheese, aim for 2% or less. If expressed per 100g, that’s 2g or less.
  • Fermentation turns lactose into lactic acid, so naturally fermented cheeses with a sharp taste will be better choices.
  • If you can tolerate sheep’s or goats’ milk, you may be OK with sheep or goat cheeses.
  • Obvious one, but if in doubt only have a small piece. We all know what happens when we get it wrong and ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

So, armed with this knowledge I encourage you to go out into the world and eat the damn cheese. And if you’re looking for somewhere to start, may I recommend Blacks Cheese flavoured matured Cheddar. We taste tested three and ohmygod were they amazing! Trying Sticky Toffee Cheddar on dairy-free ice cream.

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2 thoughts on “An ode to cheese – Is vegan cheese all it’s cracked up to be?

  1. Thomas Mathys says:

    I could never ever not eat Cheese. As a Swiss, this is just impossible :D While vegan cheese sounds interesting it also sounds as wrong as vegan sausage (although there are some delicious vegan burgers out there). Oh, and Cheddar and Gruyere are always a good cheese choice anyway ;)

    • Rebecca says:

      Life without any cheese at all was definitely hard. I’m so pleased I can have Cheddar. I’ve even started researching a low-lactose fondue recipe! I might ask for your help to finesse it 😃

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