Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Vegan Pizza Cheese Worth Eating

(Disclaimer: Prior to adopting a vegan diet I was a great fan of good cheese. It was one of my joys, and I did not give it up easily. So, I do know what good cheese is like, and no, this is not good cheese. It is a good cheese analogue which is not the same thing. Just as I don't eat meat analogues to replace meat (which I don't actually like), rather, to serve in the rôle of meat in recipes for texture and protein, I eat cheese analogues to act as cheese in various ways but not to be cheese, which they cannot be. That said, this product is excellent for the purposes I use it for.)

This stuff melts and bubbles, and looks right.
Visually appealing, and with a mouth feel that doesn't put you off.

I ate an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet for about 30 years, adding some fish in about 15 years ago. I chose to restrict my diet for ethical reasons. I knew that absent an existential threat, I wouldn't kill an animal with my own hands, so it ultimately forced me to decide that didn't consider outsourcing the killing ethical. I stopped eating things that required animals to be killed. Eventually, I became aware of the extremely poor treatment of animals used to produced the ovo and lacto (egg and dairy) parts of my diet and it began to bother me.

A few months ago, I realized that I was having severe adverse reactions to wheat (and other grain) gluten. So severe that I would feel constantly ill. I realized I had to adopt a gluten-free (GF) diet, which I did. At the same time I took the opportunity to address my discomfort with eating eggs and dairy, and switched to a vegan diet as well. To say the results have been salutary would be quite an understatement. Reduction in weight, great increase in general health and energy, and a feeling of moral rectitude have been among the pleasant outcomes. What hasn't been so easy is adjusting my cooking to the situation.

I am not quite a foodie, but I do cook a lot, and dairy in particular has been a mainstay. I specially like pizza, for example. I already lost the crust, losing the cheese as well made things very unpleasant. I have tried various commercial GF, vegan pizzas with mixed results. The one constant was the cost, always far too high. Recently, I tried a pizza from Bold Organics. It was about the usual (high) price, but it was unusually good. The crust is excellent for a GF effort, but what struck me was the "cheese", it was exceptional. It melted and bubbled, and with a little assistance from the broiler, it even browned. I refer to the disclaimer at the start and mention that this is not cheese, it is a cheese analogue. But, it was a very good one.

A little research turned up the source of this "cheese", which is a company called Follow your Heart. I already knew about Follow your Heart from their exceptional Vegenaise product. It is a mayonnaise substitute good enough that my children actually prefer it to the egg version. That's quite an endorsement. I wasn't aware of their Vegan Gourmet mozzarella analogue, but I am now. It's really good.

I had some trouble finding it locally. I couldn't get the "Shreds" version, which would have been preferable, but I did find it in block form, and it shreds reasonably well. As you can see from the photo above, the appearance of the cooked pizza is very convincing. An excellent presentation. The flavor is mild and appropriate. Seasoning becomes more important in the absence of a really good cheese, but garlic, onion, and various Italian style herbs go a long way. The result is more than acceptable. It is an enjoyable meal.

I don't usually go out of my way to simulate animal and glutenous foods. I prefer to eat dishes that are organically free of gluten and dairy since they have evolved to be good food in that context. But, I do love pizza and I like the option of enjoying it from time to time. With Follow your Heart Vegan Gourmet mozzarella, I can make a pizza when I want it, and actually enjoy it. My challenge now is a really good, homemade, GF crust. If I work that out, I will report back.


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