Veganmofo : A sorta melodramatic tale of foreign non-dairy products and Homeland Security

Welcoming myself to my first ever VeganMoFo!

In the tradition, my tradition, of involving myself with time-pressuring activities (ala NaNoWriMo) I’m a late bloomer. About a week late, just like I always am with that certain bang-your-face-on-the-laptop tradition. I show up for the fun and stay for the pain!

I recently returned from the UK, home of the best cheese-analog in the world, the legendary Cheezly. I’m not really a fan of vegan cheese to begin with, and I’ve tried pretty much tried all the ones available in the NYC area. Life pretty much goes on without adding soy cheese to most of the everyday foods I prepare for myself, but the one thing that really just can’t be done justice is the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. I know there are many a homemade concoction consisting of tofu, cashews, endless quantities of nutritional yeast, just to name a few things. But it just seems like a lot of effort for a lovely meal that really should be effortless.

Few vegan cheeses are up to the cheddary, tangy, creamy heights that I require for such a sandwich. I heard of the wonders of Cheezly and was curious. It really, really melts, they say! The texture is perfect! It’s even edible out of the package! I know I can order it online, but something like purchasing vegan cheese for me requires an element of spontaneity. And yeah I know of one little store that stocks it time to time, but spending $9+ makes me feel guilty for an imported lump of oil and potato starch.

Then I find myself in the UK, London proper, just around the corner from a Fresh n’ Wild (the UK’s manifestation of Whole Foods). Cheezly indeeds lives here for a modest 2 pounds. A real bargain, even when mentally doubled to $4 American. Even better, I am wildly fortunate enough to be stashed away in a gorgeous apartment with an adorable and underused kitchen so Cheezly, a sliced loaf of very soft bread and a tomato come home with me. This cute kitchen is attached to an apartment in Camden Town and is a rotating home for out-of-town artists, music-company employees and tag-alongs like myself sometime, so not unsurprisingly the kitchen itself has been a little neglected. But not so much that some forward-thinking human left a jar of Coleman’s Mustard in the ‘fridge, which no grilled sandwich should be seen without.

One thing leads to another and shreddy chunks of Cheezly, red ripe tomato, slathers of Coleman’s and olive oil (forgot to buy marge, but this is so much better anyway) finally make contact with an apparently virgin frying pan. I have to make due with a rubber spatula in lieu of real utensils, so some sandwich damage occurs. Some very miserably flipping and a few minutes later and ohmihgod, I am tasting perfection. I swear I even saw one delicate cheese-like strand appear as I ripped apart a chunk to feed to my starving partner. This is good. Finger lickin’ good.

Fast forward to the day before I have to head home stateside. I spend the last of my pounds on three wedges of Cheezly and a few very sexy jars of Stanton pickle (I’m guessing an all-natural jab at Branston pickle) and alluring date n’ raisin ale chutney. I have visions of laughing my way through the horrible jetlag the next few days as I inhale delicate faux cheese slices smothered in deep plum-hued pickle, or toasty grilled sandwiches, or even just alongside a slice so-right-now Macoun apple. I get up extra early that morning to read more than a few websites involving US Customs and what foodthings are allowed. Seems like “hard cheeses” are okay, which sounds suspicious but whatever…this isn’t cheese or dairy or ever seen an animal besides vegan people, Uncle Sam! I lovingly pack away my jars of pickle, chutney, jams and Cheezly into my carry-on bags.

Have you caught my mistake already? I am such a careful airline traveler. I avoid checking bags like anyone’s business, no lost luggage hell for me thankyouverymuch. I search high and low before a flight for the perfect little 3 oz. travel sizes of creams, gels and little tiny deodorants. And now what a dumbass I feel like when I’m standing in line at the airport realizing I have presumed 14 oz. weapons of terror in my awesome (and deeply discounted) Besty Johnson hot pink vinyl carry-on bag. I appreciate everything airport security does for us and all I want to do is bang my head on the tarmac a little before I proceed into the gauntlet.

There’s no way my partner is going to let me check my bag at this rate. Heathrow is vast, we’re in a hurry and who knows where we have to go. I timidly ask the guy-who-asks-you-about-gels if this jar of chutney is okay, expecting defeat but still hopeful. He proceeds to wave the jar around in the air, whooping questions to the line of wide-eyed travelers behind me if this could be a plastic explosive. How enterprising of him. I take my jar from Mr.Post911haha, turn around and wheel over to a nearby kiosk. I attempt to give away a jar of pickle but it only results in strangers tearing away as fast as possible from my crazy-person antics. With tears in my eyes and little time to spare (for getting through inspections and finding our gate) I toss these jars of promise in the trash bin. My partner suggests beforehand that we break open a jar of Seville orange marmalade and have a farewell taste but I won’t have any of it. I have totally lost my appetite.

The plane ride home is about all that you can hope it to be, including a surprisingly edible vegan meal thanks to Virgin Atlantic. But you better believe that for many of those hours I’m sweating the thought of explaining what soy cheese is to a tired and surly JFK customs agent. Especially nauseating after a seven hour and forty minute ride in an airtight metal tube over the Atlantic. An hour to home and I’m filling out the little customs form, suggesting fines and other ominous fates if I’m not honest about what I’m bringing back across our borders. I pull aside a lovely flight attendant and ask her about things soy cheese, my last desperate move. She looks concerned and says she’ll get back to me. She never does, but like any flight attendant she has a zillion things to do before touchdown. Matters concerning international boarders and mock dairy products probably are not near the top of the list.

The story ends with me losing my nerve and leaving three perfectly good wheels of Cheezly stuffed in the front pocket of my airline seat. Big laughs or curious shrugs for the plane cleaning crew perhaps? Or maybe one of them is vegan and he or she scored a happy few days of grilled cheese heaven. I can only hope. Yes of course we fly through customs without so much as a raised eyebrow. Never have I been so disappointed about hassle-free bureaucracy.

So for now I’m Cheezly-less. I have some Dr. Cow (which I love but is no grilled cheese material) and an aging lump of Scheese cheddar chive to hold me over till I decide it’s time to plunker down the big bucks for the most wonderful plug of oil and potato starch ever. I know that out there somebody has brought back a chunk of this faux cheese of legend home without a snag (real or self-generated). You are my hero. Spill a little gooey filling from your next grilled sandwich for me.

(Image from dlisbona)



Filed under Vegan Products, Veganmofo

8 responses to “Veganmofo : A sorta melodramatic tale of foreign non-dairy products and Homeland Security

  1. Oh terry! This is the happiest yet saddest story ever. I’m so glad you now share my love (obsession?) for cheezly, but it’s bittersweet because it’s so expensive and elusive here. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that we can buy it for $9 without the shipping costs, but still…

    P.S. You must try the bacon flavored one next. I swear it tastes exactly like smoked cheddar.

  2. What a horrid ordeal to go through. I think that you could have managed to sneak the Cheezly through customs. I was able to get through with chocolate and Chocoreale, but then I didn’t explicitly name them on the customs form. Usually you can get away with saying $XX of souvenirs…

  3. Oh NO! I hate this. You totally could have sailed through customs. I had a grilled Cheezly in London as well & it was the best thing ever! I totally understand.

  4. I’m laughing so hard and feeling so bad about it.
    I can totally relate to your plight (though not with Cheezly – not tried that yet but I’m gonna) I always come back from England with a suitcase full of edible treats and goodies and I would be devastated if I had to, not just leave anything behind, but throw them in the bin!!

  5. Hrm, cheezly. I’ll believe it when I taste it for myself. Your story raised my anxiety level, I also stress the fuck out going through customs. I brought a tiny vial of sand back from Indian and really sweated about it, then blew through customs like a breeze.

    I’m more concerned about the jars you chucked at Heathrow. Sad. Also, what did you think about the WFM in London, I’m curious.


  6. Dammit- I still don’t know what to do or how to attempt to bring my cheezly back! I have a couple of months to figure it out though…

  7. The Lazy Ethicist

    I live in Ireland but I’m from the US and I go back and forth several times a year. I bring heaps of food back and forth all the time! I’ve never been called out at customs–though sometimes I’ll get quizzical looks at the security checkpoint. When I explain that it’s non-meat and non-dairy, they let it go through.

    Basically, I never write it on my customs form or otherwise say anything about it and it hasn’t been a problem.

  8. The Lazy Ethicist

    ack! I meant to include in that that I understand your nervousness about bringing things in! And I too mourn the chutney loss.

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