We. Love. Cheese.
And yes, vegans have pretty much had to do without (good) cheese up until just the last few years.
Things have changed though, and chefs have gotten more and more creative and skillful with their plant based cheese alchemy. There are lots of great vegan cheeses on the market now, as well as recipe books for the at home cheesemakers among us. I dabble in cheesemaking myself, but you know what? It's a lot of work, and really good cheese is not an instant thing.
As with dairy cheese, plant based cheese done well is a days (or weeks) long process that allows the cheese to culture and develop all that wonderful cheesy flavor that can't be faked with and amount of nooch, vinegar or lemon juice. So when someone comes along who does it really well, and is willing to sell it, I'm an automatic fan.
Welcome to Portland, Vtopia Cheese Shop and Deli! This new venture ("the 2nd all-vegan cheese shop in the country and the first in the PNW"), by the folks at Eugene, OR based Vtopian Artisan Cheeses is a vegan cheese-lover's dream come true. It's also a safe haven for anyone who can't eat dairy, whether they're vegan or not. There's not a drop of animal anything in the entire place, and everything is incredibly delicious.
I went to the grand opening a while back, and was dazzled by a long table filled with over 40 different types of vegan cheese, plus breads, crackers, and fruits to accompany them. I fell in love with every cheese I tasted, and wanted to sneak off into a corner to be alone with some of them. Yeah. Love.
I think the main focus of the shop right now is the large cheese display case, where there's always a great variety of cheeses ready to jump into your car and go home with you. The deli menu is small but growing, and I see great things for this cozy little place in Portland's Goose Hollow neighborhood, on Jefferson, near 17th.
If you have time, stick around and order a panini or other melty grilled sandwich. Rick and I have been back twice for lunch. The basic grilled cheese panini is wonderful, and the tempeh reuben is one of my favorite sandwiches ever, made with creamy, melty cheese, and delicious purple house-made sauerkraut on organic bread from New Seasons Market.
When you go, step inside and go straight to what I think of as the Vegan Dream Cheese Case. Peruse your options for take-home, and then look up above the opening to the kitchen and see what the food options for the day are. Order something. Anything. Then choose a nice table either inside, or out on the patio, next to a most amazing old bent tree. And if you have any questions, do ask. The friendly owners and their small staff are happy to chat and eager to please. Want a slice of tomato in that panini? Done deal!
And soon you'll be able to order an adult beverage to sip while you wait. I saw an application for a liquor license in the window. Wine and cheese? Oh, yes, please! Bring your skeptical non-vegan friends and share the cheesy love. They'll soon begin to understand that vegan cheese, actually is real cheese, and they'll stop thinking you live a sad and deprived existence. Cheers to that!