Top Five Alternative Cheeses Nearest to This Vegan’s Heart

Autostraddle 5th B'day_Cats plus changes_Rory Midhani_640px (1)
We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!


Lactose intolerance is a cruel, cruel mistress. As a kid, I was one of those weirdos who truly relished drinking a tall glass of milk, and as I got older I became one of those vegetarians who professed a strong desire to be vegan, if ONLY I could ever give up cheese. Cheese, man! Cheese is the best! Then one day I became an 18-year-old college student who had stomachaches almost all the time, and I found myself afraid to eat anything in my university’s dining hall. The only thing I’d allow myself was cereal with milk, and I still couldn’t understand why I was doubled over in pain after every meal. Finally, a doctor suggested that I (like so many Eastern European Jews) had developed an intolerance to lactose, and that maybe I should try two weeks dairy-free to see how I felt. Never one to waste time, I instead experimented by drinking yet another tall, frothy glass of milk and… well, let’s just say I’ll never do that ever again. That was the day I renounced dairy for the rest of my natural life. I’ve never looked back.

Thankfully, I am not alone in my cow-product-free lifestyle, and the science of fake cheese has made incredible advances in recent years. When I first sucked it up and removed dairy from my diet, I ate a lot of tomato pie pizzas and stared yearningly at my friends’ mozzarella sticks. These days, I hardly feel like I’m missing out on anything, and if there’s a food I happen to miss, odds are good that Isa Chandra Moskowitz or Chloe Coscarelli or someone equally brilliant has figured out a vegan way to recapture the decadent snacks of my childhood.

This isn’t to say that all alt-cheese products on the market are created equal. Take it from me: if you ever get lazy and decide to purchase a package of Mac and Chreese at your local health food store, you will live to regret that terrible decision. It’s helpful to know which fake cheeses are so delicious you can eat them straight out of the box, and which are merely bright orange globs of gelatinous sawdust that even the dog won’t touch. Presented below are five of my favourite cheese substitutes, with links to purchase them online if you don’t live near a store that carries them. Let’s get to it!


 

feta

5. VegCuisine Soy Feta:

So the thing about eliminating dairy from my diet is that everybody I knew was always trying to find a catch. Goat cheese doesn’t have as much lactose as cow’s milk-based cheese, so I wouldn’t feel as gross if I happened to consume some. This meant that for the first five years or so that I identified as a vegan person, my mom kept trying to feed me goat-based cheeses. “But you won’t get sick!” she protested, missing the point entirely. For one thing, I was hardly willing to risk eating any kind of cheese on the off chance I might fall to the ground in agony 30 minutes later. For another thing, I was a goddamn vegan, which means no animal products. God, MOM, you just don’t understand me!  The thing is though, feta is delicious. The neat thing about this soy-based feta is that you can put it in your Greek salad or whatever and you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. I’ve been known to occasionally nibble it right from the package. Delicious.


 

I made this mac n cheese for Hansen so she could recover from her previous vegan mac n cheese trauma.

I made this mac n cheese for Hansen so she could recover from her previous vegan mac n cheese trauma.

4. Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese

: Heads up, this links to a case of 12 blocks of cheddar, which sounds ridiculous until you try this stuff. Follow Your Heart has an adorable name and also melts, which is an important quality for cheese to have. When I finally swore off the casein-laden Veggie Shreds for good, I discovered that Follow Your Heart was ideal for most cheesy purposes – it could melt on top of a burger, drizzle onto my nachos or better still, coat my macaroni and cheese. Through extensive trial and error, I am here to tell you that the nacho and cheddar flavors are far superior to the Monterey Jack and mozzarella, and that the one downside is that once your cheese re-hardens after melting, it’s gonna stay that way. It’s never going to regain its gooey texture, but it’s still delicious, particularly when you are drunk in front of the refrigerator around 3-4 AM.


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I’m gonna put you in my face.

3. Treeline Cheese

Guys, this is just insane. If you happen to be a lactose intolerant person hosting a fancy party, you now have the option of serving creamy soft cheeses in several delicious flavors. Treeline cheeses are a bit pricy (Whole Foods in New York City had a little tub for about $9), but I tested them out a couple of weeks ago and was really impressed – impressed enough to feel sort of guilty, in that way I do sometimes when vegan substitute foods taste a little too much like the real thing. I’m not used to eating spreadable cheese on crackers; I haven’t in a decade, but Treeline have done amazing work turning cashew cream, scallions and herbs into a pretty amazing hors d’oeuvres situation. I haven’t tried their new line of hard cheeses yet because I can’t afford nice things, but soon, Treeline. SOON.


 

via thecleandish.com

via thecleandish.com

2. Homemade Cashew Cheese

If you think I’m being an elitist jerk by linking you to expensive spreadable vegan cheese, you’re right. When I tested Treeline out for the first time, I was making a lot more money than I am now, so spending $9 on something I’m going to consume as an appetizer now seems just a liiiittle over budget. The good news is, you can actually make your own cashew cheese at home and it’s mega-customizable and amazing. This recipe comes from Bold Vegan.

You will need:

– 1 cup cashews, soaked in water (preferably overnight, but at least for an hour)
– 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1 dash black pepper
– whatever herb situation you want
– 1/4 cup water

Drain and rinse your cashews and place them in a blender or food processor along with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs. Blend for about a minute, then add the water and pulse again until everything is completely smooth – about 3 minutes or so. You are welcome.


 

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Daiya is responsible for this mac n cheese burrito. I regret nothing.

1. Daiya

This might seem a little obvious, but only because Daiya is the king of the vegan cheese world. Dairy free, gluten free and soy free, Daiya melts and stretches and regains perfect texture, which has changed the game for every other vegan cheese out there. Daiya first hit the market in shred form, but has since expanded to include wedges and slices as well as a line of cream cheeses and frozen pizzas. I can’t say these guys are doing wonders for my healthy diet, but they have made me appreciate everything that science has done for me. Since I regained the ability to have melty pizzas, quesadillas and nachos, my life has improved tenfold.


Header Image by Rory Midhani

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Stef Schwartz is the Music Editor at Autostraddle.com. She's a rock'n'roll jack-of-all-trades, vegan crusader and legit professional weirdo. She lives with her cat Scully in the wilds of Los Angeles, where she writes terrible dance music, drinks quality bourbon and misses New York City. Follow her on twitter.

Stef has written 102 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    This article is right up my alley because lately my body has been letting me know that it’s time to give up cheese made from cow’s milk, and I just can’t. Like, how can you tell me I have to give up gruyere, fontina, and cheddar and expect me to go on?

    I tried a vegan nacho cheese years ago and ran screaming, so I’ll look into trying these suggestions out to see if the flavors (and textures) have made significant strides.

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    I must provide a warning about Daiya- for me, there is some kind of upper limit to the amount I can consume without horrible gastric pyrotechnics- it seems to completely shut down my system. I still can’t look white pizza in the face after eating half of one topped with Daiya and then spending the rest of my evening regurgitating it.

  3. Thumb up 1

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    Oh my god, Daiya came out while I was living abroad, and I’m so excited to be back in the US because there’s good vegan cheese now and I can’t even. Mac and cheese, you guys. Seriously.

    Also, yeah, mac and chreese… it would probably taste better if I cried salty tears into it first.

  4. Thumb up 1

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    Yay! Queer vegans!

    For anybody who doesn’t mind putting in some legwork (read: enjoys cooking), check out Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner. The recipes that I’ve made from it have all turned out great; even omnivores scarf them down!

    Seriously, it’s worth looking into.

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      I tell everyone I know about this vegan mac recipe: http://www.theppk.com/2011/02/mac-shews/. Labor-intensive but life-changing—it’s the only one I’ve found that just really nails that umami, ferment-y richness that cheese would have, which comes from the roux and the implausible-sounding sauerkraut. (Kraut-haters should have no problem here, it becomes a whole other thing.) If you search around on her site there are also some easier versions; I also love the chipotle mac.

  5. Thumb up 2

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    i had heard really good things about treeline but assumed my podunk little midwest city didn’t have it — i just looked on their website and there’s one health store that does! i am going to put that cracked pepper hard cheese into my FACE this weekend.

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