Have you noticed that cheese is in everything these days? In the book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss reports that when Americans began to switch to skim or low fat milk in the 1970s, there was an abundance of extra milk fat left. The government encouraged farmers to turn that into cheese, which crept into everything. In fact, Americans eat three times as much cheese as they did in 1970–33 pounds per person per year! For me, moving away from cheese has been the biggest challenge of eating a plant based diet. In the 10 years or so that our family ate a vegetarian diet, we ate a lot of cheese. In fact, 33 pounds per year seems low for us. And many friends tell me that cheese would be too hard to give up. But, how about giving up some of the cheese in your diet? If you were alive in the 1970s, why not return to that level of cheese consumption? After all, we survived, ate well and were not as obese! Here are some ideas for cheese-like substitutes:
Cheese sauce and soft cheese. We have been learning to make plant based cheese-like sauces and toppings with several different key ingredients. One is an interesting food product called nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is deactivated so it is not used for baked goods like activated yeast. It is sold in the form of flakes and has a nutty, cheesy taste making it a popular ingredient in cheese substitutes. (Bob’s Red Mill is one brand of this yeast). Coupled with nutritional yeast can be cashews, which help to create a wonderful creamy and nutty taste, or starchy vegetables such as cauliflower and potatoes. Here are our favorites:
- Vegan Cauliflower Mac N’ Cheese. This recipe is for pasta, but can also be used for a sauce on vegetables. The cauliflower makes it thick and the carrot turns it orange. Add more or less spices for your own taste.
- This Vegan Mac ‘N Cheez recipe uses sweet potato with cashews.
- This Vegan Green Chili Mac ‘N Cheese uses cashews, which make a delicious creamy sauce. This is reserved for special meals since cashews are pretty expensive.
- 2 Minute Vegan Parmesan Cheese a simple blending of almonds and nutritional yeast flakes. My friend told me that her grandfather talked about “poor man’s Parmesan cheese” he had as a child that uses bread crumbs instead of almonds.
- My son found this Nacho Cheese Sauce that looks and tastes a lot like the real thing but uses potatoes and carrots. We serve it with sauteed onions, green pepper with chili powder and cumin over tortilla chips.
- Tofu Ricotta from Whole Foods which also uses tahini, nutritional yeast flakes and miso.
- Cashew Cream Cheese a blend of cashews with a few other ingredients
Hard cheese. I have not mastered any recipes for hard cheeses and gave up after some awful results. There are some prepared non-dairy cheeses that we like. They are a bit expensive, but about the same as buying artisan cheeses from a farmer’s market or the deli. In fact, if you do keep cow or goat milk cheese in your diet, I would recommend you spend more for it to keep it as a treat–and ditch the cheap Kraft, processed stuff! I still love to eat cheese and crackers on occasion, and here are the store bought ones I like best (information about ingredients is on the websites):
- Field Roast Chao slices. These seem the most like cheese that I have tried, though I think what makes them good is that they don’t try to taste like cheese! It tastes different enough to be interesting. Tomato Cayenne is especially good. The slices are a little thinner than I would like, but they are the best I have found for a cheese and crackers snack.
- Follow Your Heart gourmet dairy free cheeses are also good. They will melt, which is a plus for pizza (we use the mozzarella kind for that)
- Treeline Treenut Cheese We attended a “Vegan Festival” in DC last summer, and sampled this cheese. It was my favorite, but I have had some trouble finding it in stores. Whole Foods has it, but like so many WF products it was so expensive that I did not buy it!
- Daiya Foods. I would not include this brand because I don’t care for it–but my family does! It is a little easier to find than some of the other cheeses and comes in a shredded style that is good for pizza or casseroles.
- Go Veggie Foods This company carries slices, shreds and cream cheese too. If you want to try it, they have a $1 off coupon on their website too.
If you would like to take the challenge to make your own, I have been trying to make a mozzarella cheese for pizza and have tried this recipe called Moxerella. It uses blended cashews as the base and the thickener is tapioca starch. If nothing else, it makes an interesting science experiment! When you heat the mixture up on the stove it will suddenly turn into a congealed substance that is pretty cool to see. It has a mild taste like cow’s milk mozzarella, but it is not quite hard enough to shred and not quite soft enough to spread so it is a little hard to use for pizza. However, I think I need to keep trying to see if I can have better success. Other recipes can be found at One Green Planet.