How to Find the Best Vegan Cheese (Plus DIY Vegan Mac & Cheese)
Okay, so you’ve decided to ditch dairy. Good for you! Your body will thank you in a myriad of ways, not to mention your conscience. Believe it or not, giving up dairy products is one of the very best things you can do to demonstrate your commitment to living gently on this planet, as well as protecting your own health for the years ahead.
Now what do you do about that pesky little problem called cheese? If you’re like many people, giving up cheese can be a daunting thought, especially if you’re used to relying on it when there don’t seem to be any other “vegetarian“ options.
But there’s no reason this should have to be the case. Sure, it’s true that once upon a time, giving up dairy meant giving up cheese, but in today’s world, the range of vegan cheeses seems to be growing all the time.
With so many to choose from, how do you know which one to try? Well hey, why stop at one? In fact, the most sensible thing is to test out different cheeses until you find one that really suits your taste preferences. From soy to tapioca, to almond, macadamia and hazelnut, vegan cheeses are all very different to each other, so don’t be fooled into believing that you’re out of options just because a particular brand doesn’t float your boat.
Choosing the right vegan cheese depends largely on what you intend to use it for. There are many cheese dishes you can create in your own home, including simple sauces made using tofu, nutritional yeast, tahini, and a few simple seasonings. This same basic formula can be used to create cheesy pasta dishes, a topping for lasagna, or fresh ricotta to have on crackers.
With a simple Google search for recipes, you’ll find that there is no shortage of inspiration for the aspiring vegan cheese chef. In fact, there are entire books devoted to explaining the fine art of dairy-free cheese making, proving that an intrepid adventurer can hand-make vegan goodies from gouda to brie to mozzarella.
And don’t be discouraged if you’re allergic to soy, as there are plenty of soy-free options. Daiya cheeses (wedges, slices, shreds and spreads) are all soy-free and tapioca-based, and there are plenty of soy-free nut cheeses, such as Treeline and Dr. Cow.
- If you’re craving pizza with cheese that melts and stretches, Daiya shreds may well be your best option.
- Daiya shreds also work really well for enchiladas, paninis and nachos, but another good bet is Vegan Gourmet by Follow Your Heart. Although it doesn’t have the stretch of Daiya, it also melts and seems to have a more neutral flavor.
- Longing for a morning bagel with cream cheese? Check out Follow Your Heart, Galaxy Foods or Sheese. As well as plain (great for cheesecakes!) vegan spreadable cheeses are available in different flavors including cheddar, chive and sweet chilli.
- If you want to do a vegan wine and cheese tasting, you might want to look into some of the new artisan cheeses, such as Treeline or Dr. Cow.
- Seeking queso for your corn chips? Food for Lovers, Nacheez and Nacho Mom’s can all fulfill that craving.
- If you like a little parmesan sprinkled on your pasta, there are a few different brands out there, including a completely raw one called Parma, as well as Parmela, GoVeggie and my own favorite, Bellissimo (made in New Zealand by Angel Foods.)
- Looking for a crunchy, cheesy snack? Beanfields have created an incredible nacho-flavored corn chip that often leaves me wondering how on earth they did it. And believe it or not, Earth Balance recently came out with Vegan Cheddar Kettle Chips, Cheddar Squares and Aged White Cheddar Puffs and Popcorn!
- And finally, if you want nothing more than a tasty cheese slice to go in between two slices of bread with lettuce and tomato, and maybe even a little vegan mayo (mmmmm), then I would recommend Daiya slices or wedges.
- Have a hankering for Mac ‘n’ Cheese? Well honestly, you can easily make it yourself without any store-bought cheese at all (see the recipe below), but there are also several powdered sauce mixes to make it easy, including Road’s End Organics and the cashew-based Beyond Better. And if you’re looking for really a quick fix, Amy’s has a dairy-free frozen version of this classic comfort food, which also happens to be gluten-free. Earth Balance also has two flavors of packaged Mac ‘n’ Cheese, requiring nothing more than a little stove-cooking along with vegan milk and butter.
Macaroni & Nutritional Yeast
Recipe credit: Wikibooks, CC License
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 3 1/2 cup Water (or rice milk)
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 pinch of turmeric
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 pound dry macaroni
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add salt to taste, and add the macaroni.
- Melt the margarine over low heat. Beat in flour with a wire whisk. Continue to beat over medium heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
- Whip in boiling water (or rice milk). Then add salt, garlic powder, soy sauce, and turmeric to the liquid.
- The sauce should cook until it thickens and bubbles. When that happens, beat in nutritional yeast flakes (if the sauce is too thick, add more water). For a variation, add mustard.
- When the macaroni is cooked, drain and add the sauce. Serve immediately.
As you can see, the variety of vegan cheese alternatives on the market is far from limited. And the options are even wider if you’re open to experimenting in your own kitchen. With just a little culinary courage, you can open up a whole world of vegan cheese-making using fresh, whole food ingredients.
When we make changes to our diet, one thing we find is that our tastes and preferences change as our habits change. Flavors and aromas that were once appealing can actually become quite the opposite as our bodies adjust to more wholesome foods. I say this from experience. I was once a serious cheese eater, enjoying everything from cheddar to camembert to blue cheese. Nowadays, just the smell of dairy cheese has become quite a turn-off to me.
If you’re venturing into the world of vegan food with trepidation about replacing familiar flavors with new and different ones, rest assured that you will not feel the same way in a month from now. In fact, since the cells in our taste buds renew themselves every two weeks, there’s a good chance that your taste will catch up with your convictions in no time!
And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to try something new! We now live in a world where giving up dairy doesn’t mean giving up cheese… Now isn’t that something to be grateful for?