It’s the early-1990s, and if you happen to be a vegan with a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich, there are some formidable obstacles that stand between you and satisfaction. There is no Whole Foods down the street that you can pop into for some vegan cheese singles or a package of shredded Daiya. That’s because there is only a tiny handful of Whole Foods across the nation, and vegan cheese slices and Daiya have yet to be invented. It’s the vegan dark ages, which means that to get that grilled cheese sandwich, there are only three ways to proceed, each with drawbacks that in the end make it easier to simply do without: one is labor intensive, another requires trans-continental travel, and the last involves straining the limits of credulity to the point of breaking in your use of the word “cheese.”
Your first option is to make your own cheese with seaweed flakes and nutritional yeast using a recipe from Joanne Stepaniak’s The Uncheese Cookbook. This cheese will taste pretty good, but it needs to set in the refrigerator overnight so immediate gratification is impossible. Your second choice is to board a jet plane bound for Glasgow, where you can buy some Sheese, a delicious vegan cheese made in Scotland. That’s right – Scotland. But with the Atlantic Ocean standing in your way, this choice is both very expensive and very time consuming. Your last option is to find a store selling the only vegan cheese commercially available in the United States, Soymage. Soymage is an enigmatic, hard, grayish-white substance that comes wrapped in industrial strength plastic. It does not look like cheese, smell like cheese, taste like cheese or behave like cheese – stubbornly refusing to melt no matter how high you heat it – but you sometimes eat it anyway because you are a vegan stuck in the 1990s and therefore have very low expectations. Little do you know that just around the proverbial corner, a non-dairy revolution is about to begin.
Fast forward twenty years and not only is vegan cheese readily available and a store where you can buy it most likely conveniently located, but you actually have choices! There are now several brands of vegan cheese singles that allow you to whip up a delicious, authentic tasting vegan grilled cheese sandwich in no time flat. But that is just the beginning. There are vegan cream cheeses to spread upon your bagel. There are vegan parmesans to sprinkle upon your pasta. There are vegan cheese spreads for dipping, a ready-made cheese sauce to pour upon your macaroni and – Ole! – a spicy vegan nacho sauce for your tortilla chips. Sheese has jumped the pond and expanded its flavors to accommodate even the most discerning vegan foodie. Smoked Gouda, Edam, Blue, Chesire and Cheddar with Chives are a few Sheese options that make it and the new kids on the block – Dr. Cow ‘s and Kite Hill aged vegan cheeses made with nuts – the perfect wine and cracker accompaniments to serve at your swanky dinner party. And then, of course, there is Daiya – that delicious vegan cheese made from tapioca that exploded on the scene recently and rewrote the rules of the vegan cheese game forever. Not only does Daiya taste like real cheese, it acts like it, too. It melts, and when it melts, it stretches, and with a chewy, cheesy texture just like the real thing, Dayia set the bar higher, and sent other vegan cheese companies scrambling back to their R & D departments in a desperate attempt to keep up.
Gone are the days when being vegan meant going without. Gone are the days of having to pretend to ourselves and others that we actually liked the vegan cheese that masqueraded as food. Today, we remember the bad old days if only to excitedly contemplate the future. If past is prologue, what delights will we be enjoying a few years from now? We can hardly wait to find out!
First update: August 21, 2013
2015 update: We’ve not updated the cheeses, but want people to be aware that some vegan cheeses have palm oil and/or are coconut-based. Please see a very important message about cruelty in the palm oil and coconut industry by clicking here.
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