After the birth of our daughter last year, it soon became clear that dairy did not agree with her (a common issue with newborns, we came to learn). As my wife continued to breastfeed, what she ate, baby ate, so my wife had to give up the goods as well. So my baby is dairy-free, and now my wife is dairy-free, so to paraphrase Jules in Pulp Fiction, that pretty much makes me dairy-free too. But we’ve always been a cheesy household, we like the finer things in life*, after all.
So for the past year, we’ve been on the hunt for the specific delight and comfort only cheese provides, without getting cows involved. We also love our wine (see above*) and there have been many nights when dinner was a bottle of Montepulciano and a cheeseboard. Back when we could entertain, a pile of cheese was always at the centre of the table. Not willing to give that up, we found the Blue Heron Cheese Shop in Vancouver where chef and frankly, magician, Karen McAthy has conjured the sublime out of 100% plant-based ingredients. She’s kept the tang and creaminess of cow’s cheese in creations such as the ‘Smoke n’ Spice’ with cashews and fermented habanero paste, and the ‘Beachwood’, an aged almond cheese that crumbles beautifully. Even if you still go with the dairy, add one of these to your next cheese board and see what goes first. Give her website a browse, and good luck trying to pick only one of the delectable offerings.
When I say cheese, you say burger. And while a gooey slice of American on a greasy patty is tough to beat, the folks in the Veg Out food truck give it a good race. While the entire “burger joint” menu is plant-based, even the staunchest carnivore won’t miss a thing. Top one of their juicy patties with their original cheese made from chao (a fermented tofu), and your backyard-bbq-dreams will come true. They’ve even got soy-based shakes to complete the picture. The weekend of this writing, they can be found in Surrey and Port Moody, so they get around. Check their website or social media anytime for a current schedule.
Like the Beatles, poutine is pretty hard to imagine without one of its original founding members, but it can be done — just like the way they do it at the Spud Shack Fry Co. in New Westminster. Quite literally steps from the Skytrain gates, Quebec’s finest export since Celine is never far from where you are. Dairy-free versions are available on any of owner Dan Close’s 10+ inspired creations. The “curds” here keep their chewy mouthfeel and melt the right way over variations on the original gravy n’ fries that include veggie chilli, buffalo chicken and ginger beef just to name a few. Massive servings mean you can grab a couple to share when you inevitably can’t decide. It doesn’t hurt that they feature a nice line-up of local craft beers to wash it all down.
Now, an article on food made with cheese could never be complete without the daddy of them all, the mighty pizza pie. My wife and I knew this would be the biggest hurdle due to the role pizza plays in our nutritional routine. It’s true that we absolutely structured our honeymoon just so that we could start it in Naples. Our favourite pizza back home has always been from Via Tevere in Vancouver, and we knew there was a God when we heard they were opening a vegan pizzeria on Main Street. All hail Grano Pizzeria – locally sourced plant-based cheeses join forces with the finest ingredients imported from southern Italy in a traditional domed brick oven. The cashew mozzarella may not string for miles like you’re used to, but its creaminess complements the savoury marinara wonderfully. Or try a pie with a roasted garlic puree as a base for an extra kick. Heaven.
Finally, we come to dessert. For the ultimate decadence, we must return to Blue Heron. It may be cheating to include a spot twice in the same article, but I don’t care: Chef Karen’s “cheesecake” is better than cheesecake. Rich and creamy and just enough sweetness. For a couple of birthdays now we’ve just given her a flavour idea — once we simply said, Old Fashioned cocktail cake– and she’s given us amazing results. This is definitely one choice that will stick even when we get friendly with dairy again.
So there you have it, if you’re thinking about giving up dairy, or those closest to you are committed to it, there’s no need to say goodbye to your favourite comfort foods. You may even find the alternative becomes your customary.