Nuts for nut cheese
It’s been four years since I had to break up with dairy, after I went to the doctor for a routine physical and left with a diagnosis for severe dairy allergy. It explained my chronic cystic acne and how my hands turned red upon contact with buttery flour, but I was devastated. Mostly because that meant the end of a long, sustained relationship with cheese. I had consumed cheese with vigor and it poisoned me. I should have known, love this great is bound to crush and destroy. I avoided cheese like an awful ex for four long years, until the end of 2015. It was the holidays, a time when cheeses abound and I was in the thick of sentimental and hormonal cravings. I wanted cheese and lots of it.
With vegan cheese, looks really don’t matter. Just because they had that gorgeous cheddar color, doesn’t mean they could be The One. I should have swiped left on the shrink-wrapped variety. Some of them straight out lied on their profile, they said they were “alternative” but underneath, they’re rice/soy/almond cheese draped with poison: casein. Most were heavily salted, as if to mask their inferiority; some just tasted fake. But the biggest loser? It came in a cute package but tasted like margarine.
Not one to give up after a few bad dates, I went back out there and picked up aged sharp cheddar—made from cashews—from Parmela Creamery. In a sea of flashy plastic, it caught my eye. The craft paper packaging shone like a beacon, a gift to be unwrapped. The $8.99 price point gave me pause, but the quality ingredients they used justified the cost. I ask a lot of my vegan cheese and Parmela delivered with ingredients I can eat: coconut oil, cashew milk, and nutritional yeast. I remembered a meal I had at a vegan café in Seattle, on the menu was mac and cheese: cashews over penne. If cashews can transform into full-bodied cheese sauce, what breakfast foods can it elevate? I took it home, ready for a revelation.
At home, I made quiche, and on top of broccoli florets and bacon, an extravagant shower of Parmela cheese. I popped the whole thing in the oven, and waited for the requisite resting time before feasting. I shouldn’t have doubted, it was delightful, and it gave my quiche a luscious, creamy quality that was missing in my life. I took another bite and tasted the best kind of saltiness, the kind you get when someone cares about your salt intake, but isn’t spare with flavor. I used to say all cheddar cheese tasted the same to me—salty—but Parmela cheese has terroir I didn’t think it would have. The cheese melted in my tongue and right there: smoke, paprika, parmesan, butter, all rounded out with cream.
Blissfully in love, I introduced Parmela to my dairy-obsessed loved ones. I watched as they helped themselves to second, third servings of my feast of eggs and cheese. Parmela turned second string egg sandwiches and ho-hum frittatas into stars. It gave them umami they never thought they deserved. My friends didn’t have to say it, their excited inquiries of how we met, and where to find others like it, were proof. With cheese this good, who needs dairy?