Vegan cheese is foul. It is practically inedible, and doesn’t deserve the ‘cheese’ title. But, as a vegan, and an intense cheese lover, I’d do just about anything. I knew I needed to at least try to make a substitute. In a fit of desperation, one winter I slaved over a huge dutch oven full of vegan mac and cheese; to this day, it is the worst thing I have ever put into my mouth.
It was not simple to make. It took a lot of preplanning and preparation to make this dish happen. I soaked cashews in warm water overnight, until the tan, wrinkly nuts became softer and mushy round the edges. Then, it was time to grind them up. The recipe called for a food processor. This would have made the chopping process easy. Throw in the nuts, press the button- whirrl whirrl- done. Except… all I had was a blender. I had to throw half the nuts in, blend for five seconds, shake blender vigorously when it gets clogged, then begin blending again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Finally, I was done. Now, the hard part started- I still had an hour of work left to do. I had to put twenty different ingredients into three different pots; all while the pasta was boiling. I dragged out the pound sized can of nutritional yeast from the cabinet. What did that recipe just say?! One-fourth cup? That seemed like a lot. Nutritional yeast is a very strong flavor. But, oh well, it’s what the recipe said; let’s go for it. Boiling, bubbling, whisking, blending. The kitchen became hotter and hotter. The room was practically an oven itself. This is not a recipe: it is a cautionary tale. There were at least thirty steps total. But I thought it would all be worth it. I threw it in the oven and crossed my fingers.
An hour and a half later the house smelled like heaven. It was a warm, homey smell that made my mouth water. I pulled the weighty pot from the oven, elated with the possibility that I was going to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor- my cheesy, noodley fruit. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love, she describes the cheese coming off of a pizza in Naples, “… hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of your surroundings…” That’s what I wanted: a full cheese experience. I thought I had done it. It was beautiful. Golden brown, stunning in the pot. It looked like the real deal- gooey, sticky, crunchy, and cheesy. Everything mac and cheese should be.
I served the meal in beautiful, blue, china print bowls. They had a tiny, delicate flower design around the rim. Even if macaroni and cheese isn’t typically considered gourmet cuisine, I wanted to make this special. My family was almost as excited as I was after smelling it for so long. My mother, brother, and I all sat in a circle on the dining room floor, enjoying a casual meal, ready to dig in.
But, this was a pasta of deception. A macaroni of lies. A casserole of deceit.
I was in the kitchen, getting water to go with the dinner, while the others started eating. The lively conversation in the room immediately died out. When I sat down, they were all dutifully moving the pasta around in their mouths, and didn’t say a word about the meal I had just prepared. They just sat and took long sips from their water glasses. I took a big bite, excited beyond belief, enthusiastically chewing. I stopped. Wait.
The taste made me gag. It curdled my stomach, twisting my internal organs into a tight knot as they revolted against the food. The taste clung to my teeth and tongue like a thick film. It felt like when I’m sick so I sleep with my mouth open, and I wake up with my tongue feeling like it’s covered in scum and my teeth are rough. It was that same texture, only with a pungent taste of definitely-not-cheese. It was reminiscent of tangy, soured milk with just a hint of cat urine. I spent hours upon hours of hard work making noodles that tasted like filmy pee. I had to spit it out, exclaiming loudly that is tasted, “Totally rank. Why would anyone put this in a cook book?” My loving and supportive mother had eaten three bites of the stuff, and looked as if she could cry in relief that I didn’t expect her to eat any more of it. After the first bite, my brother had given up. He was the first to get up and dump his bowl out. But then we had a pot of disgusting pasta that weighed more than I did. We tried to feed it to my dog, but he wouldn’t touch it. Let me repeat that: Barkley, my dog who liked to eat garden snails off the side of the garage, wouldn’t touch my mac and cheese.
Don’t eat vegan cheese, and certainly don’t try to make it. It isn’t worth your time. If a recipe claims to be a “vegan cheesy dish”, don’t even look at it. Just run, and run fast. Gilbert writes in Eat, Pray, Love, “I am having a relationship with this pizza, an affair.” In this quote, the author is describing just how much she loved the meal. The pizza swept her off her feet. It wasn’t just a taste but an experience. I was in a pre-affair this this mac and cheese. Before the first bite, I had a serious crush on this mac and cheese. That stage of love where where you blush and have butterflies in your stomach. But, my beloved turned out to be a scumbag. My heart was broken, and I will never trust another vegan cheese again.