Veganism is something I think I could do, with one exception: Pizza.
My love for pizza is well-documented. I could eat pizza seven nights per week … and before I was married, I often did!
Living in Chicago, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great pizza places. There are many world-class pizza places within delivery distance to my house: Palermo’s in Oak Lawn, Louise’s in Crestwood, Papa Joe’s in Oak Lawn, Lou Malnati’s, Vito and Nick’s (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), Home Run Inn, and Phil’s, to name a few.
Even the second-tier pizza places — Conte’s, Leonardo’s, Fox’s, Augustano’s, etc. — are far superior to the best pizza offerings in most cities. I’m not saying this to brag: It’s just the truth. Chicago is known for its great neighborhood pizza places.
Turning my back on pizza in Chicago would be like somebody in Indianapolis swearing off auto racing or somebody from Kansas City refusing to eat barbecue: It’s too hard because it’s what defines that city.
So when I found out that soy-based mozzarella “cheese” was an actual thing, my hopes that vegan pizza could be a reality were raised.
I found a place online called Food Fight Grocery where I could buy it — along with a lot of other cool vegan stuff — and placed my order. A few days later it arrived.
I have to admit that this tube of soy-based mozzarella sat in my refrigerator for a couple of weeks before I worked up the nerve to actually try it. I mean, what if it was really good? That would mean the final obstacle to my going completely vegan would be removed.
After all, the package stated that it tastes and melts just like real dairy-based mozzarella and that it even had the same stringy texture.
Finally, I tried it. Using my standard vegetarian pizza recipe — including the homemade whole wheat dough I always use — I put together my pie.
The first sign that something wasn’t right with this “cheese” was that you couldn’t grate it like you can fresh mozzarella. It wouldn’t hold together well enough to withstand the grater. It was too watery. So instead I had to cut it into discs.
Then, when I cooked the pizza, the cheese only melted slightly and wouldn’t get brown and bubbly, not even when I turned on the broiler for a couple of minutes. It stubbornly stayed the same white color.
Finally, it came time to taste it. The flavor, while mozzarella-esque, lacked the buttery undertones that real, fresh mozzarella has. In fact, it didn’t have much flavor at all.
The texture was similar to mozzarella, but despite what the packaging claimed, it didn’t have the stringiness and gooey texture we’ve come to associate with high-quality dairy-based mozzarella. While it wasn’t exactly like putting tofu on pizza and calling it cheese, it was close enough that I don’t think I’ll try it again.
In a way, I’m relieved because I don’t think I’m ready to commit 100% to vegan — or even vegetarian — lifestyle. Still, I enjoy cooking vegan much more frequently than ever before and am continually seeking out new recipes — especially on such great blogs as Becky’s at VegHotPot — so that I can cut down drastically on the amount of animal protein I consume.
But nothing will ever take the place of my Chicago pizza.