The one thing everyone says to me when I say I don’t eat dairy is “ugh, I could never do that. I love cheese too much”. And I get it. I loved cheese too. It’s not as if I stopped eating dairy because I was one of the few people in America who don’t like cheese.
The good news is that the craving for cheese goes away a lot quicker than you’d think. I do think of it as an addiction, and when you don’t have it, you don’t really think much about it.
Yet our culture is one filled with cheese. So you’re going to think about it. Reason being that it will be on TV, in photographs of food on the street, on Instagram, on your friend’s plate at lunch. So while my life doesn’t center around cheesy meals the way it used to, it’s always good to have substitutes.
When you’re dairy free, this is of course, vegan cheese. Vegan cheese gets a bad name because some of them really aren’t that good. That said, most of them (even the most prevalent – Daiya) are passable when treated right. Linked is a Daiya cheese sauce that you can put on anything you want. Since their vegan mac & cheese is a fan favorite and delicious, this has to be good.
Some vegan cheeses are great, namely Follow Your Heart’s line of vegan cheese. All of them that I have tried have been very good. The secret, I think, is that they have a good texture, they melt well, and they are mild. I’m focusing on cheese I already really enjoy rather than talking about the ones I don’t like, because I think that’s the easiest way to help someone else. We all have different taste buds and you could like some that I didn’t like. But you’re almost guaranteed to like the ones I do, because I have great taste ;).
Unfortunately, most vegan cheese has to be mild to taste good. I loved sharp cheeses in my prior life, but the sourness of dairy is really not appealing when it’s not dairy. This is a hard thing to describe. It’s like without the addicting properties of cheese, it’s tang is just weird. So it’s best when vegan cheese stays on the subtle, creamy side. Or smoky (smoked gouda), or spicy (pepper jack).
Kite Hill makes great vegan cream cheese, which I recommend if you love bagels and cream cheese. The plain variety can also be used to make cheesecake or cream cheese frosting for carrot cake (which my grandma does every holiday for me and my sister).
If you love queso, you have to try Siete’s line of cashew queso! They’re available at Whole Foods and so delicious. They have spicy blanco and regular nacho cheese. This is a must do when you want to have taco night with friends. I’m not kidding.
One of my favorites for mozzarella on pizza (besides the always accessible Daiya), is Violife. In Europe it is easily found, but to find it in America you’ll need to go to a Whole Foods or other health food store. Violife also has parmesan which is really good, as well as feta which I have not been able to try yet!
That’s another note. Despite the fact that I love Follow Your Heart cheese, I wouldn’t sit and eat it plain. This is something I would have done with real cheese, but in my opinion that’s just not what vegan cheese is for. It’s best in a sandwich or melted on pizza, as a grilled cheese, or in a taco. It pairs well with other flavors. It doesn’t make you want to eat an entire block of it alone, in one sitting. Which is probably a good thing. That said, there is fancy nut cheese. Some of it has been aged. There are varieties to serve at parties on crackers like fancy cheese spread. I’d love to try it but haven’t yet had the chance.
Daiya is often offered at pizza restaurants, most notably Blaze Pizza, these days. Which is amazing! Again, when you live dairy free you have to learn to jazz things up. I wouldn’t go for a cheese pizza. I’d go for a pizza with all of the toppings I love. That’s key.
So don’t just try the first vegan cheese you find and then give up. I can promise there are flavors out there that you’ll love and enjoy eating. It’s fun to try new ones and see what you like best! Good luck on the hunt.