Dairy is dead to me

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May 26, 2019, a "brief" personal update: So it's Memorial Day weekend in the US, which means the country spends sometime honoring those who've served in the military and our shop is closed an extra day. Not going to lie (though as it's the internet, how would you know?) having an offline business has seriously messed up my work-life balance.

I thought my work-life balance was off when I was trying to write and homeschool my son, but this time makes that time look like a vacation I just didn't manage well. I'm still enjoying it, and that's important, but things haven't developed the way we expected, which is frustrating.

Another frustration (and really the point of this update) is that apparently my issue with dairy isn't lactose intolerance as I thought, but rather is a full on inability to digest dairy, period. Which means that I can no longer enjoy cheeses, even if they are aged. I have resisted admitting this fact or acknowledging the effects that I've been suffering (which is not unusual, given my attitude towards the medical world is, "stay out of the belly of the beast.").

However, for reasons that will not be detailed here, I have had to face the music, as it were, that dairy and I really don't get along. There will be no tyromancy in my future. I'd already given up so many types of dairy (milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, soft fresh cheeses) that the reader would think taking this next step wouldn't be a big deal. The reader would be wrong.

Dairy and cheese are everywhere and in practically everything especially if you enjoy eating out. Obviously there are cuisines that don't use dairy, Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisines eschew dairy as do other Southeast Asian cuisines— with the obvious exception of Indian cuisine. There are plenty of Indian dishes that don't include dairy though.

I don't have a lot of experience with South American or Central American cuisines to make a determination, but I think there might be be plenty to eat there too that was't smothered in cheese or milk based sauces.

Dairy is essential in casual dining

But if you're talking American or European cuisines, well you're talking a lot of milk and cheese (and gluten, but that's not the topic here). I have actually found gluten (because I'm not celiac) easier to avoid than dairy in restaurants. And if it turns out that butter is off the table (it is for the initial two weeks, but will be the first thing I challenge my gut with after that), well, I can forget about ever having a sauce in a restaurant again. "First thing in the pan, last thing in the sauce" is how Anthony Bourdain (RIP) described butter. As I have a niece who is a classically trained chef making standard American fare, I can tell you that is true.

Sure, there are "vegan" options in many restaurants now and even the occasional vegan restaurant, but going out to eat with friends generally means (at least in my portion of this plane of existence) going into an establishment where almost every option includes either gluten or dairy. Gluten free options (mostly those that are naturally gluten free) have multiplied in recent years.

I don't like much of the gluten free bread products on offer (and not just because I'm partial to my own) so I tend to go with the naturally gluten free option. I don't need to worry about cross contamination, so this works… or did work until it because plain that it isn't just milk and cream I need to avoid, it's all dairy.

So now that lovely shwarma bowl that is naturally gluten free is not an option for me because it contains yogurt. Gluten free pizza without cheese? Have you lost your mind? The only reason gluten free pizza in restaurants (none of which use our gluten free pizza dough that is AMAZING) is only edible because it's smothered in cheese and topping. Take away the cheese and you're left with a tasteless cracker. And desserts? Well, desserts almost always have milk or cream, so I mostly stopped eating them in 2012.

A quick aside here: It's been pointed out that perhaps I will be able to tolerate so-called A2 milk. And I will probably give it a try once the two week complete dairy moratorium is over. However, even if I can tolerate A2 milk, that only helps me when I eat at home. As a commercial food preparer, I can guarantee you that no restaurant or chef anywhere uses A2 milk or A2 milk based cheese. Nor do must stores carry in their cheese sections. I will still functionally need to avoid most dairy.
It is also possible (though not likely given events that, again, are not going to be detailed here) that there are goat's cheeses or sheep's cheeses that I can tolerate. That also may help out at home, but won't do much when it comes to restaurant dining. We eat out more since starting the business, though we still manage to eat at home 3-4 nights a week. Even at home though it's going to be an adjustment.

Last night part of our meal was some of our fresh gluten free spinach pasta. As a sauce the plan was a carbonara with bacon bits. Carbonara sauce is an egg based sauce, no problem there, but of course, typically is includes cheese. Cheese is an essential ingredient if we are to get my son to eat spinach, but now I can't have it. So the sauce on my portion of the pasta was just made with the eggs and bacon, and the rest was sauced with the carbonara. And of course, the leftovers are now off limits for me. An easy solution to the problem (at home) but that's not going to be an option in most restaurants.

Of course, the gluten free pasta options in restaurants are boring as all chefs microwave precooked penne rather than make or deal with fresh or more interesting options. I don't eat pasta out any more as a result. But that's a topic for a different post. This wound up being longer and bit more of a rant than I anticipated, but it is what came out of my finger tips this morning.

Vegan cheese is inedible

Before I close though, I want to address the vegan cheese issue. There are "milks" (plant juices) that are reasonable replacements for cow's milk. There are vegan ice creams that are as good or better than cow's milk ice cream. I can't speak to vegan yogurts because I haven't tasted them, but yogurt strikes me as the kind of product that could be successfully veganized. But not cheese.

I have, at this point, tasted quite a variety of vegan cheeses. Many of my customers are dairy free, so when we introduced grab & go calzones, it was necessary to offer a dairy free option. The diary free option is also the vegan option because it seemed sacrilegious to put vegan cheese next to the lunch meats that form the foundations of the traditional calzone. Daiya™ mozzarella shreds were recommended to us because they melt and they aren't soy or nut based. They are also inedible. They do melt and give the vegetable filling a creaminess that wouldn't otherwise be there, but in no way are the cheese-like.

Plastic is the texture that most vegan cheeses have, and the Daiya™ mozzarella shreds are no exception. Texture is incredibly important in food enjoyment, in fact, texture is the biggest advantage and differentiator that our gluten free products have. Texturally, they are similar to their wheat inspirations, as well has having a great flavor (also similar to wheat).

In texture and taste, all vegan cheese fail. They are all super ultra processed and extremely expensive. Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon and offering lower produce prices) has the largest selection of vegan cheeses in our area. The lowest priced one was $9/lb. That's a lot of money for unpalatable plastic. Originally (because the cheese is awful) I didn't use them in the calzones, but would up adding it for the creaminess. The dairy free folks who've bought the calzones have said they are okay— but now that I have joined their number I will seek a better tasting alternative.

I eat what I cook, believing that you should never trust a chef who doesn't eat her own food. My husband and partner is still able to digest dairy, so he now becomes the taster of anything containing dairy. The vegan "focus" was mostly because most of our products is naturally without animal ingredients. So it didn't bother me to use the vegan cheese if they were okay with it. Mixed with the vegetables, I thought the creaminess improved the calzone, even if I didn't really prefer the flavor of the cheese. Now, however, I'm on a mission to make a really tasty vegan calzone— and it will not include any vegan cheese.

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