Does this sound like you?
You’ve heard of plant-based diets and how great they can be for your health. You like the idea and have seriously been considering a transition to a diet that relies on plant-based foods exclusively.
But there’s something holding you back.
You can deal with giving up meat – you’ve proven that to yourself on more than a few Meatless Mondays. No eggs, no problem. And milk and butter have genius plant-based substitutes already that work just as well as their animal-derived counterparts.
No, the problem isn’t any of those.
Yes, cheese. Gooey, stinky, hard or soft, it can be embarrassing to admit the hold it has over you. I’ve certainly been there.
And many people that currently follow plant-based diets confess that eschewing cheese was actually the most difficult part of their transition.
If you’ve landed on this post and you’re still reading, chances are you’ve been thinking the same thing. You’re asking yourself how on earth you will ever be able to live without the most delicious food ever to hit your taste buds.
And you may be prematurely giving up, resigning yourself to the fact that you just don’t have the willpower to be “one of those people”.
But I’m here to tell you that despite all evidence to the contrary, you CAN do it!
Just follow these three simple tips and I guarantee you will be wondering why you ever doubted your ability to do something so simple.
1. Find Your Flavor Replacements
First, we need to consider the goal here. It’s really more about replacing cheese and the flavors it imparts than giving it up altogether.
The trick is to find the right plant-based substitute – just like you probably did (or can certainly do) with meat, milk, butter and eggs.
So, the first tip is to figure out what it is that you love about the taste of cheese, find a similar flavor, and replace it in your diet. Pretty simple, right?
Since cheese comes in many different varieties, flavors and textures (blue cheese is completely different from American cheese or mozzarella, for example), it’s important to figure out which cheeses are your favorites and why.
Do you love the richness of cream cheese? Or the sharp tang of an aged Cheddar? Maybe a creamy Brie is more your style.
Once you’ve nailed down your favorites and the reasons you love them, it’s time to start thinking about substitute flavors in the plant world.
For an acidic tang, lemon juice is a great alternative. Cashews or almonds (or almost any other nut), soaked and then blended with a little liquid, can stand in for creaminess. Miso paste gives you that unique, elusive umami flavor. Mashed ripe avocado is an easy substitute if it’s richness you crave.
It’s worth mentioning that many people who give up cheese swear by nutritional yeast flakes. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast sold in many grocery stores (sometimes in the health food section). You can simply sprinkle it over a dish or add it to sauces – it’s easy to use and has a nutty flavor reminiscent of cheese.
What now? Well, for low-level cravings, this is all you need.
Throw some chopped avocado in your salad instead of goat cheese crumbles if you’re craving something smooth and rich. To add an edge to your dish, use lemon juice in sauces for some brightness and acidity. Or, for that unmistakable cheesy flavor, try mixing miso paste into homemade salad dressing.
Now, you may be internally rolling your eyes at me right now.
You’re probably wondering if I’m seriously suggesting that your favorite rich, delicious, creamy cheese could be replaced with a mere squeeze of lemon and a lowly mashed-up avocado.
I’m not (remember, I said low-level cravings!).
On to tip #2.
2. Substitute Plant-Based Cheese You Can Buy
Yes, of course you can buy plant-based cheese!
Maybe you already knew that. Maybe you’ve even tried some. Maybe you think they taste like you’re chewing the rubber off your car’s tires.
I’ve been there.
But plant-based or vegan cheese has actually come a long way in recent years. It’s now at the point where even true turophiles find themselves fooled.
So which faux cheese tastes the best? Well, it depends on what you plan to do with it.
Here’s a list of the best plant-based cheeses for each potential application:
- For a gooey, delicious grilled cheese sandwich, try Chao or Daiya cheese slices.
- For pizza, try Daiya cheese shreds.
- For cream cheese, nothing beats Kite Hill’s almond-based varieties. This stuff will fool everyone you know. It’s great for bagels, cheesecakes, frosting – you name it. If you’re looking for a simple bagel spread, Treeline has some tasty cashew French-style cheeses that come in unique flavors.
- For traditional Italian-style mozzarella (think buffalo mozzarella), try Miyoko’s cashew based VeganMozz. It’s actually got a better flavor than the real stuff!
- For ricotta, Kite Hill makes another fantastic almond-based substitute. It’s great in lasagna or in any recipe (hello, pancakes!) that calls for traditional ricotta.
- For a fancy cheese board, when you just want to enjoy the flavor of the cheese all by itself (with some wine, of course), try any flavor of Miyoko’s cheese. I also highly recommend Treeline’s aged nut cheeses, especially the cracked pepper variety. Serve these at a party and no one will know they’re dairy-free!
Most popular chain grocery stores will carry at least some of these cheeses. You’ll have better luck with stores geared toward the health-conscious as they’ll generally carry a better selection.
But what if you’re in a rush and need to satisfy that cheese craving NOW?
What if you live miles away from any chain grocery store?
Check out tip #3.
3. Substitute Plant-Based Cheese You Can Make
Yes, you can make plant-based cheese!
What’s that? You don’t want to make your own cheese? Well, you don’t have to, strictly speaking. See tip #2.
But what if I told you that making your own cheese can be very, very simple and mind-blowingly delicious, too?
Most plant-based cheeses that actually taste like dairy cheese use a combination of the flavor replacements in tip #1 to mimic the familiar flavors and textures you know and love.
For an easy beginner’s cheese, try this almond feta recipe first. It’s laughably easy and you can also skip the overnight refrigeration and use as-is for a creamier cheese that’s ready to eat in minutes.
Pro tip – add a couple teaspoons of miso paste. I do this with every cheese I make at home to give it that cheesy sharpness. Note that miso paste is naturally salty, though, so you’ll want to reduce the amount of salt you’re using in your recipe if you add miso.
Ready to move on? Try a tofu-based cheese if you’re feeling brave and ready to kick those dairy cheeses to the curb.
Simply crumble up a block of tofu in a food processor and add a tablespoon each of miso paste, olive oil and tahini. Add whatever seasonings you feel like – dried herbs or garlic powder come to mind – a squeeze of lemon and salt to taste and blitz it up.
You can form the resulting blob into whatever shape you like and either serve as-is or refrigerate for a couple of hours to solidify it a bit and then pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for around 15 minutes for the warm, gooey cheese of your dreams.
Another pro tip: after removing your cheese from the food processor, roll it in cracked peppercorns. The pepper adds a great kick and a hint of spice.
But what if you want a cheese worthy of topping your favorite pasta dish or sprinkling over garlic bread?
Not a problem.
For a plant-based parmesan, simply combine 1/2 cup of nuts (try cashews or pecans), 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil, 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of garlic powder in a food processor.
Blitz until the mixture resembles coarse sand, and you’re ready for faux-parmesan magic.
Want your cheese to double as a dip? Enter queso. Queso-less queso. Typically cashew-based, it’s another dead ringer for its dairy cousin. You’ll swear you’re at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
In fact, once you’ve tried a few of these starter plant-based recipes and are feeling more confident in your cheese-making capabilities, feel free to go forth and search for more recipes all over the internet.
There are plenty of plant-based cheese recipes available to keep you experimenting once you get your feet wet. Be forewarned, though – making your own cheese is addictive!
I hope these tips have inspired you to believe that you CAN give up dairy cheese. Although it may seem impossible now, remember that many former cheese addicts have been in your shoes.
Those people managed to give up cheese and lived to tell the tale – of better health and better-tasting plant-based cheese. Follow these tips to replace your own dairy cheese cravings and there will be no stopping you!
Have you ever thought about giving up cheese? What’s holding you back? Let me know!