Vegan grilled cheese and other small miracles

Erin tells of a happy encounter in the health food store

By Erin Pavlina

When my family and friends first found out I was becoming a vegan they invariably asked two questions: "Where will you get your protein?" and "Won't you miss cheese?" The first question I wasn't too concerned about. After reading John Robbins' Diet For A New America it was clear that protein would not be an issue. But the second question scared me. Grilled cheese sandwiches were my friends, and I wondered if I could get by without my daily dose. In fact, the very last item I ate the night before becoming vegan was some wonderful potato skins slathered and dripping with cheese and sour cream (no bacon as I was already a vegetarian).

I prepared myself well to go vegan. I got rid of everything in my kitchen that wasn't vegan. I went shopping and bought tons of fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, and legumes, and had my vegan cookbook handy. I made meals that didn't remind me of what I was missing. I did quite well, and discovered to my own utter disbelief that the craving for cheese disappeared in about 21 days. After 21 days on the vegan diet I couldn't care less about cheese. I was eating cheeseless pizzas, veggie burgers without cheese, veggie sandwiches without cheese. I just wasn't missing it. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

No substitutes needed

Somewhere in my second year of veganism someone told me there were vegan cheeses out there. I objected, said they must have casein in them. Nope, my dear friends replied… there were at least two companies that made an all vegan cheese. So what, I told them. I didn't miss cheese and really didn't need a substitute. I just wasn't interested. I continued on my merry vegan way.

In my third year of being a vegan I started to become curious about these cheeses. I wondered if they tasted anything like cow's milk cheese. I thought it might be interesting to try one… you know, just to see if it was worth all the hub-bub. But still I resisted. My craving was gone, why tempt fate? Besides, it probably tasted horrible and who wants to eat plastic soy chunks that don't melt.

The encounter

One day, when I was three and a half years vegan, my husband and I ran across one of these vegan cheeses in our health food store. Sliced American style cheese from Soymage. Hmm, I thought skeptically. Suddenly it jumped into my cart. I really couldn't have stopped it. I tried to put it back, but it wouldn't budge. I told the cheese I'd take it home but that it would probably go to waste. The cheese smiled happily. Seemed like it knew something I didn't.

It sat in my refrigerator, patiently waiting. I acquired a nice sourdough bread from the local farmer's market. I thought back to my days of grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread. My craving started to stir. Down foul craving, I said. Back to the nether world where you belong! But the craving was strong and powerful, like it was on spinach or something.

A reluctant sandwich

I took out my vegan margarine and slathered two slices of bread with it. Reluctantly, I liberated two slices of the fake cheese from its packaging. I put the sandwich together, threw the skillet on the stove, and practically slammed the offending sandwich onto the hot pan. I pinned it down with my spatula. When the first side crisped up I flipped it over. It sizzled valiantly. The cheese wasn't melting. Aha! No grilled cheese you are! But after a short while I did start to notice the two pieces of bread sticking together. Okay fine, so you melt. Big whoop. How do you taste?

I took it off the pan, sliced it in half, and watched the melted cheese spill onto my paper plate (if it doesn't stick to your plate, it's not a grilled cheese!) I took it to the table and sat down. I glared at it, but it merely smiled confidently. I took a bite. Hmm. Crispy on the outside, and warm and melted on the inside. Not bad tasting either. It didn't take long for me to concede victory. My first vegan grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread. It actually tasted pretty good. It's a miracle!

Since that day, my husband and I have enjoyed several vegan grilled cheese sandwiches. But this doesn't mean I'm going to buy the vegan mozzarella and start making pizza. Oh no… it's going to have to fight its way into my cart. And if by some miracle it just happens to make its way home with me, I'll simply make a pizza with it and prove it doesn't taste good. Over and over and over again…that oughta teach it.

Erin Pavlina is the editor of VegFamily, the Magazine for Vegan Family Living. She is the author of Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World, and her articles have appeared in numerous magazines. She lives in Los Angeles with her vegan husband, Steve, and lifelong vegan daughter, Emily.

© Erin Pavlina. All rights reserved.

June 2003

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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