One of the things you might most miss when becoming vegan, and especially if you’re already vegetarian, is definitely cheese. Good ‘ol yummy cheese.
Why Would You Want to Reduce Dairy?
- Intolerance – Dairy is one of the top triggers of food intolerance and is especially high in young children. Milk and its by products rank right up there at the top of the list of 8 allergenic foods (Milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, gluten, soy, fish).
- To lose weight – Dairy can be the culprit of increased body fat and gained weight. If you’re looking to lose weight be sure to check out our post on intermittent fasting for vegans.
- For the environment – there are so many reasons to choose veganism for the environment and it’s one of the most empowering things we can do on a personal level to take action against climatic change.
- You want to go vegan – There are so many reasons you may choose veganism. Maybe you’ve seen activists like Gary Yourofsky or watched famous movies like Cowspiracy, or maybe your own personal life experience has inspired your journey toward veganism.
- For health – Dairy is source of cholesterol so if you want to lower your cholesterol, this would be a good place to start (as well as removing other animal products from your diet). If cholesterol is high or you’d just like to keep it low, you’ll be surprised by the powerful health effects of drinking hibiscus tea.
- For the animals – Last but not least, the dairy industry is not animal friendly. Vegan cheese can provide the last step to break free from supporting something you don’t believe in.
How Can You Replace Cheese?
The main hurdle in replacing cheese is the psychological one. As soon as your mind is convinced that this really is YOUR choice, you won’t actually WANT to eat cheese. So the main objective you’re after is to create change on a deep level and to allow it to sink in. Allow it time to grow. In the meantime, you have to choose whatever is the best way forward for you as an individual.
And that might include occasionally eating a bit of cheese or it might not, but either way it helps to have a cheese replacement for those cheesy moments.
When I first gave up cheese, I just began to stop. I stopped adding it to my food or cooking. At that first moment, I didn’t say ‘I’ll never eat cheese again’, instead I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to eat cheese because it’s hypocritical to what I believe in’. I stopped eating it, thinking that I’d still sometimes eat it if nothing else was available. If you’re interested in my journey, you may like to read about being vegan and what it means to me.
I guess for the first 5 months or so I kept this open-minded attitude toward cheese and then one day I was in a vegetarian restaurant and they made a mistake.
They brought me melted cheese on my food – and when I queried it, the waitress said I was wrong – it was vegan. She didn’t even come over to the table to look, and I didn’t want to make a fuss and risk spoiling the moment, so I tried the ‘cheese’. It was dairy. And to my amazement, it tasted horrible.
I put the cheese topping to one side and ate the rest of the meal. And that was my last encounter with dairy cheese. (It made me feel sick to be honest.)
I believe my mind had changed on a fundamental level, so the taste of cheese would never be the same again. Either that or it was really bad cheese on that meal! Nowadays I would definitely not accept dairy cheese in a restaurant claiming to offer vegan options.
I guess what I want to say is, when you’re first starting out, be kind on yourself. Allow yourself to eat as much or as little as you want. There are no vegan police judging you. Just you, choosing your lifestyle however you want to.
Everything you do – if you want to do it – is positive. If you struggle at first, I find it helpful not to think of it as a struggle. Why should it be a struggle? If you eat vegan substitutes 6 times a week and real cheese once a week, who’s to say that’s not a success? It’s 6 days a week more than when you were eating full-time cheese.
But when you’re thinking of giving up cheese there’s good and there’s bad news. So which do you want first?
The Bad News
The bad news is that homemade vegan cheese doesn’t actually taste the same as cheese. Mind you, having said that, if you’d only ever tried Cheddar or Gouda and someone came along with a ripe camembert you might also say that the camembert wasn’t cheese because it was too different from what you’re used to.
The same is true of homemade vegan cheese. It’s different. Not better, not worse, just different.
The Good News
The good news is that it’s totally doable to ‘replace’ cheese and if you’re anything like me, you’ll become completely adapted to eating vegan things instead of cheese, even if you start off gradually. And I totally don’t miss it.
Slowly, a change occurs in the brain receptors and in the deep recesses of the mind, and little by little, the glorious crown of jewels that the word cheese used to wear, becomes obsolete. I was a cheese freak, believe me: strong cheese, blue cheese, mild cheese, hard cheese, I loved them all.
Now, I would never wish for cheese again. It’s all in the mind. Just like everything we see, think and do. We’re programmed by our deepest beliefs and those beliefs also effect everything physical like taste, energy and health. And the great news is, we can re-program our minds.
When Do You Eat Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese is something to replace the cheese in those moments when you would have eaten cheese in your previous, cheese-eating life. So the main times when I personally would have missed cheese (not anymore) for example would be:
- grated cheese in jacket potato
- grated cheese on top of any meal at all lol! Pasta, rice, vegetables and everything else.
- chunks of cheese as a snack.
- cream cheese for on toast or cheese biscuits
- cheesy sauce for cauliflower cheese, lasagne or other cheesy casserole dishes.
- cheese board for after a dinner party type meal with friends.
Of the above, the one I haven’t really replaced is the cheese board. It is doable, especially if you also source or make fermented cheeses, but I haven’t done that yet.
On the odd occasion that I’ve made a cheese board, it’s had maybe 3 types of vegan cheese, which means there’s room for improvement there – and one day I’ll make camembert type cheese and blue cheese. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Main Types of Vegan Cheese
Most vegan cheeses are made from cashew nuts. They can be made with other nuts; almonds, walnuts, macadamia and more, but by far the most versatile and popular nut for making cheese is the cashew.
Here below are some of the main types of vegan cheese.
Hard or Soft Vegan Cheese
Most homemade vegan cheeses aren’t very hard. It would be nice to come up with a cheese that’s really tough to the tooth like a mature cheddar, but so far, I haven’t managed that. I make a cheese recipe that starts off soft and becomes medium soft, then crumbly dry (yum!) the longer it’s left to mature in the fridge (without a lid).
One of the most delicious examples is this vegan cashew cheese with jalapeños, which starts off like a cheese spread and matures into a mozzarella type texture with full flavour in three days.
Theoretically, to make the cheese firmer, you need to make less quantity cheese for the amount of agar agar you use. So I guess I’m too greedy and make huge amounts of cheese to my 2 tablespoon of agar agar!
Most vegan hard cheeses are based on the same principle ingredients: cashew nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic, agar agar, water, salt & lemon juice. Additional options include tapioca flour, gram flour, turmeric, paprika, apple cider vinegar and coconut milk or coconut oil.
You can also add chilli for a kick or any other flavour or herb of your choice. Sweet potato or red peppers are another additional option as well as varying the type of nuts instead of the cashew.
Cashews are my favourite though.
The agar agar is the essential ingredient for making the cheese set, and the tapioca for giving it a gooey chewy consistency.
Soft Vegan Cream Cheese
Soft vegan cream cheese is easy to make and you can create loads of variations by adding fresh chives or other herbs into the mix, or by rolling the finished cheese in dill, parsley, oregano or chilli. The basic ingredients are the same as for the hard cheese but you don’t need to use so much agar agar, if any. See my vegan herb and nut cheese recipe.
And although it’s described as a walnut pâté, this vegan walnut Pâté recipe is really just another soft vegan cheese, which I think is yuuuummy.
A very easy vegan cheese to make is the vegan mozzarella which is based on the cashew nut sauce recipe with the added ingredient of tapioca flour. It’s one of the easiest recipes you can come across and is great for using in salads, on pizza, in pitta pockets and buddha bowls.
Grated Cheese For Sprinkling On Everything
Sometimes described as vegan parmesan cheese and sometimes completely overlooked, this invention is my fall-to cheese (and no, it wasn’t me who invented it and I’ve no idea who did).
It does everything you need a grated cheese to do. If I’m eating a jacket potato it goes on top. If I’m cooking a vegan lasagne, it goes on top! If I’m eating a soup that lacks umph, you guessed it, I add this cheese to give it sparkle. And the best thing? You don’t have to heat, stir or cook this recipe!
You just take a bunch of cashew nuts and a load of nutritional yeast and grind them in a blender along with a pinch of salt. Play with the quantities of each ingredient until you get the taste you’re looking for. I keep this in a pot in my kitchen and always have one on the go. It’s my number one tip to help you make the switch from traditional cheese.
Vegan Camembert and Blue Cheeses
I had the most incredible, delicious, creamy smooth, melt-in-your-mouth, vegan camembert when I was in France, visiting Bordeaux. My daughter and I had a list of vegan restaurants to visit but then it was Monday and most of the restaurants were shut. The only one we found which was open, initially disappointed us because it was located in a small, dark backstreet, maybe even dodgy looking area and its image from the outside wasn’t very appealing.
We almost hesitated to go in but then we thought we may as well, now that we’d found it. And my goodness were we glad that we did! They had the best camembert I’ve ever tasted (ok it’s a looooong time ago since I’d had ‘real’ camembert to compare it with!). But this stuff was seriously good.
I know you can order kits for making camembert from sites like Cashewbert.com but I haven’t done it yet! If I’m honest, it seems a bit of a to-do. But I will do it one day!
Cheesy Sauces in Cooking
This is another beauty! The secret is in the cashews and nutritional yeast. They make a cheesy combination and cheesy flavour. You can also use plant milks (non sweetened) and coconut milk. Actually, you don’t even have to have the nutritional yeast to make a cheesy sauce. The essential ingredient, king of kings, is the cashew nut.
Here are some variations on how to make a cheesy sauce:
Vegan Gluten Free Bechamel Cheesy Sauce
Heat the olive oil in a pan and add some finely sliced onions & chopped garlic (optional of course). When the onions are translucent, add a few extra tablespoons of olive oil and then use gram flour (gluten free) and spoon it in until the oil and flour mix together and all the liquid oil has been absorbed, making a ball of thick paste. Stir all the time.
Add some warm stock and keep stirring to avoid lumps. When you have another paste consistency, add plant milk of your choice and again, stir until absorbed. Next, pour in finely ground cashews, and nutritional yeast if using.
Check the taste and add salt and pepper as desired. This adaptation of béchamel sauce can be used for vegan gluten free cauliflower cheese, the base of creamy soups, or added to any cooking where you might use béchamel.
Simplest Ever Cheesy Sauce
The simplest, most incredible way to give a cheesy sauce flavour to anything you’re cooking in the oven is to add cashews, plant milk or water, salt & pepper, dash of lemon juice & apple cider vinegar to the blender and blend until you have a smooth liquid.
Check the balance of the ingredients by tasting the sauce and adding more lemon or cider vinegar, salt or pepper as necessary.
Add this sauce to your casserole before it goes in the oven and you’ll have a cheesy effect when it comes out of the oven. This is perfect for the lasagne layers too.
Conclusion to Best Vegan Cheese Recipes
I hope this post has helped you have an idea of what to do when you start your journey of giving up or reducing traditional cheese in your diet. Dairy is inflammatory as well as containing puss, antibiotics and added hormones, in addition to being a hormonal growth-drink for an animal way larger than us humans.
For me, that’s enough for me to not want to eat it, even without all the other reasons. Along with vegan cheeses, I’ve also replaced mayonnaise with this more animal friendly vegan mayonnaise recipe.
Have you got any other favourite vegan cheeses which I’ve forgotten to mention? Have you made the switch from traditional to vegan cheese? Are you thinking of making the change over?