Faux-cheese me.
August 10, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Friends, vegans, lactose-intolerants: lend me your favorite cheese substitutes!

I am really lactose intolerant (or possibly have a dairy allergy; even cheddar gives me Bad Stomach) but holy shit I miss cheese so much. I'm less concerned with the flavor -- although advice on that front is more than welcome -- and more the texture. I miss the meltiness of mozarella, the crumbliness of gorgonzola, the firmness of a good piece of aged cheddar. So, what good replacements are there? I know nothing will be a 1:1 subsitute (and very rarely will it be "better" than the cheese it replaces) but lay it on me, folks.

Two things I know:
Almond cheese works for cheddar.
Nutritional yeast works for parmesan.

What else?
posted by griphus to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Apparently toasted breadcrumbs can be a good parmesan analog, especially in broiled-type dishes. I haven't really done this myself, but I can definitely imagine it working.
posted by threeants at 2:50 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've heard Daiya "cheese" is one of the only subs that actually goes stringly when melted, so it's apparently pretty awesome for pizza. Here is one blog's review (with pictures!) of a few different brands of fake cheeses.

Another thing that Nutritional Yeast is really good for is melting into sauces. I make a sauce out of tahini, nutritional yeast, hot sauce and a base (either coconut milk is probably the best non-dairy base for this), and it definitely has a cheese sauce "feel" even though it's definitely a different flavour.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:51 PM on August 10, 2011

NO WAIT CHECK IT OUT - Finlandia makes 100% lactose free cheeses! I am so fucking godawful lactose intolerant that I can't even take the trace amounts used as inert fillers in so many medications, and I can eat wave upon wave of Finlandia swiss and muenster. They also make havarti but I can't be bothered.
posted by elizardbits at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not a direct answer to your question, but have you tried using Lactaid pills? I have found them quite helpful, albeit inconvenient. I can eat as much cheese as I feel like with them.
posted by Lobster Garden at 2:55 PM on August 10, 2011

Lactaid doesn't really work. There is a large, sigh, psychosematic component to my intolerance. Until I figure that out, I'm staying away.
posted by griphus at 2:59 PM on August 10, 2011

I'm a recent (less than 1 year) vegan. I am sad to tell you that there is no genuinely good commercially available substitute. There are things that are sort of okay, only. I will put Daiya on my pizza in a pinch, but my husband flat out refuses to touch it. And really, I would much rather top my pizza or lasagna with a tofu ricotta or a cashew creme made from scratch.

The best cheese-like thing I've found to date are the fake cheese recipes in Julie Hasson's awesome book Vegan Diner. You may be able to look inside the book on Amazon or Google books - if you can find the Great Smoky Mountain Cheeze recipe, that's the best thing I've found that even comes close to working on a grilled cheese sandwich, for example. It's a lot like a spreadable cheese you might find in a Hickory Farms gift basket or similar. She also has a really good recipe for fake mac & cheese in there that makes use of both cashews and nutritional yeast. A lot of vegan mac & cheese recipes are really heavy on the nutritional yeast flavor, but that one is pretty subtle.

I've heard good things about a European brand called Cheezly, but it's not available in the US at the moment and is very, very expensive.
posted by something something at 3:00 PM on August 10, 2011

Oh, and just this morning I was thinking about how Trader Joe's baked, seasoned tofu has a texture similar to a block of cheddar. The flavor is nowhere near cheesy, but if it's texture you're wanting, it might help a bit.
posted by something something at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2011

I love me some meat and dairy, but a job during grad school managing a health food store has put me in contact with an awful lot of vegan cheese substitutes. Awful being the operative word.

Most of them taste like sawdust flavored tofu. They don't melt, they sweat. You never actually eat cheese but your food is haunted by the specter of cheese.

But the Vegan Gourmet line by Follow Your Heart is pretty widely available and tastes pretty good. You are never going to get the beautiful complexity of quality cheese. But as a substitute for your every day cheddar or mozzarella it does a very good job. My vegan coworkers swore by it and I found it to be quite palatable.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2011

Daiya is the closest I've seen and tasted.
posted by cnc at 3:36 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing Daiya. It's stringy and the flavor is pretty spot on. Since you aren't going cheese-less for ethical reasons you can probably still eat non-dairy cheeses with caesin, but those won't be on any vegan blogs. If I'm not mistaken caesin is a big element to the texture.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 3:37 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Daiya is the only commercially available product that really, really seems like cheese. My daughter is allergic to dairy and this is the only one of the zillions of dairy subs we have tried that the rest of the family will go near. The most authentic vegan macaroni and cheese is frozen Amy's Rice Macaroni and Non Dairy Cheeze sauce (don't be fooled! there are several variations of both rice mac and soy cheeze in the Amy's line that look similar!). I was surprised at how good it was...until I saw that they use Daiya in the sauce.
posted by apparently at 3:38 PM on August 10, 2011

Lactaid doesn't work for me either.

I have had Daiya and find it okay.

If you haven't tried a parmigiano-reggiano, I suggest it. It's aged for 2 years and is the only cheese I can eat with abandon. Cheddar is actually oddly sick-making for me, even sharp cheddar which you would think would be relatively lactose-free.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:02 PM on August 10, 2011

I'm fairly lactose intolerant but through a lot of reading and eating experiments have discovered that most mature cheeses have very little lactose in them. They do have a small amount but bacteria in the cheese making process consume most of the lactose. Squishy cheeses like brie are still out of the question, unfortunately.

This won't help you with an allergy to milk fat or any psychosomatic issues but this discovery has been wonderful for me.

Some other related discoveries include that a similar process occurs with properly made yoghurt and that proper butter has very little lactose as the lactose stays with the buttermilk.
posted by deadwax at 4:05 PM on August 10, 2011

In sandwiches, the melty richness of a ripe or slightly overripe avocado is a pretty decent replacement for cheese.
posted by sea change at 4:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are tons of vegan recipes for macaroni & "cheese" using nutritional yeast and soy milk. Try Googling. This one looks great. You don't need all those ingredients, but you'll definitely want to at least try using soy sauce, mustard, nutritional yeast, garlic, and vegetable stock.
posted by John Cohen at 4:17 PM on August 10, 2011

Also, depending on your willingness to experiment (and maybe you've tried this) but you may want to see if sheep's milk or goat's milk cheeses also do terrible things to you. I react fairly badly to cow's milk cheese but I don't get the same symptoms from the other two.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:23 PM on August 10, 2011

Daiya is the best around.

Also, I've been lactarted for more than 10 years and lactaid makes me barf...but recently I discovered I can eat goat cheese. Have you ever tried it?
posted by bikergirl at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2011

Does white cheese also screw you up?

I cant have annatto extract which is in all Yellow cheese like cheddar and american but not white cheeses.

Can you have motzerella?
posted by majortom1981 at 4:55 PM on August 10, 2011

Here's my boyfriend's recipe for a "cheesy" sauce based on nutritional yeast. Experiment with the amounts to get the texture you want (can be thick like a dip or more liquid for mac and cheese or pizza sauce)

Bunch of nutritional yeast
Mushroom broth (we discovered this when we just had some leftover from rehydrating dried shitakes)
Some of the adobo sauce that canned chipotle peppers come in
Seasonings to taste: salt, black pepper, oregano, cumin...whatever you like
Olive oil, if needed (like if you want to add richness without lots of expensive tahini)
posted by dahliachewswell at 5:48 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been vegan for years and I don't really like any of the cheese substitutes. I recently experimented with vegan mac and cheese and after much trial and error this is the recipe I use (and it's really fucking delicious):


4 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped
2 1/2 cups red or yellow potatoes (peeled or not, doesn't matter, I don't peel mine)
3/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
2/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped

Everything else:

1 cup non-hydrogenated margarine
1/2 cup raw cashews (cooked cashews don't work well in this recipe)
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon miso paste
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Salt to taste


Now you can use any kind of noodle you want but I've found it just works best with a traditional macaroni noodle. I even tried using wheat noodles but it didn't work out too well. Depending on how saucy you want your mac and cheese, you can use a 16 oz. bag of macaroni or less. I use about 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag but I like mine real saucy. Cook the macaroni until al dente. In a colander, drain pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In a saucepan, add shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and add just enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are really soft.

In a blender add the cooked vegetables WITH the cooking water and the everything else ingredients list. It's important to use a blender and not a food processor because the blender will get it creamy and smooth. My first batch I used a food processor and it really didn't turn out well. After you blend it, taste it and tweak it how you want. I only add just a smidge of salt since the soy sauce or tamari is already a bit salty. I'd suggest making the sauce first and tasting it before adding any salt. That was another mistake I made at one point and I ended up with a much too salty batch of cheese.

I add the cheese sauce first into a large mixing bowl and then add cooked macaroni until it's at the consistency I like. Any leftover macaroni noodles I just make into a pasta salad for lunch the next day.

Pour the mac and cheese into a large baking dish and bake at 350 for about 20 min or until the cheese starts to bubble. You can add bread crumbs before baking if you want but this recipe is so delicious that it doesn't really need it.

The cheese sauce recipe is so good that you could do almost anything with it. My next experiment is to thicken it up and make some kind of a dip out of it. And as I finish typing this up, I realize that I never updated my AskMefi question about vegan mac and cheese so I'm going to go do that now. I haven't tried it yet but I'm dying to make this almond "feta cheese" recipe.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:46 PM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Goat and sheep's milk cheeses never bothered me as much as cow's milk cheeses, in moderation. And they are delicious.

Also, you should be able to eat yogurt, because the active cultures break down the lactose. Get some high-quality greek-style yogurt, line a colander with a couple of coffee filters, set it over a bowl, and strain the yogurt for a couple of days. You'll get a yummy, tangy, creamy pile of yogurt cheese about the consistency of cream cheese or soft goat cheese. (You could actually use goat-milk yogurt and get something like a soft feta.)
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:49 PM on August 10, 2011

Yeah, Daiya is great for recipes including melty cheeses. Sunergia soy fetas are a pretty good consistency with a pretty good flavor. Both of them are fine to cook with, but I wouldn't necessarily eat them alone or with minimal other ingredients.

Your profile says you live in Brooklyn- have you tried Dr. Cow's tree nut cheeses? They're made in Williamsburg and they're totally vegan and soy free. As a cheese lover who is very skeptical of non-dairy cheeses, I absolutely love everything they make! The cashew cream cheese is my favorite, but it's all amazing. They're usually super expensive, but completely worth it.
posted by cheerwine at 9:20 PM on August 10, 2011

I'll second goat and sheep cheeses. Only the hard cheeses, though. And I do seem to have a limit of a few slices at a time, so you might try just a little and figure out where your limit is. (I've been meaning to try Parmesan too, haven't gotten around to it yet.)

The other thing, if you've tried lactaid, have you tried it as recommended or taken more? I thought it didn't work because I tried taking a pill or two and then eating several slices of pizza. When I take 8 pills, I can eat the pizza. (And yeah, I get the psychosomatic; it doesn't take very many times of getting sick for the aversion therapy to all things dairy to start working.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:18 PM on August 10, 2011

For a few reasons, I can't eat dairy. Problem is, I LOVE dairy. LOVE it. It was awful. Since you haven't said you're vegan, here's what I do:

Lamb and Beef lard (http://www.grasslandbeef.com/)

Stay with me. Cheese is mostly(?) saturated fat. Lard is saturated fat. You have to learn how to cook with it. You have to get used to it, develop a taste for it, learn how much to add to a dish (hint, usually very little). It is and will never be the same as eating cheese. Not even close.

BUT, if I eat it, I don't have dairy cravings. YMMV.
posted by zeek321 at 5:10 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've replaced cheese in sandwiches with guacamole. It's not a replacement in the imitation sense but it does provide a fat and it adds a lot of flavor.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2011

I happen to be making the muenster style cashew-based cheese from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook for a wine-tasting this evening. I make it a few times a year and it's delicious, as is the pepperjack.

I was once able to order Sheese from Food Fight Grocery but they don't appear to be carrying it right now (may be seasonal as it needs to be refrigerated). It's made in Scotland and somewhat hard to get in the 'States but if you can find it it would be very worth your while. It's the only vegan cheese that I've ever had that has the creamy/crumbly texture of a good cheddar and the taste is outstanding as well.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:22 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

As for fake cheese I am very impressed with No-Muh. It is the only cheeze that I'll eat on its own, cold. Don't know how available it is in the US though. Melted Cheezly Mozzarella is good on pizza, but probably not if you still remember the taste of real mozzarrella very well.

As for recipes, I love the cashew ricotta recipe from Veganomicon It probably doesn't taste like ricotta, but it is really great in dishes like lasagna. http://www.food.com/recipe/cashew-ricotta-284547

Also, try blending walnuts or other nuts with nutritional yeast for a parmesan substitue. It's still not parmesan of course, but better than nutritional yeast on its own. If you google vegan parmesan recipe you'll find other ideas. In my experience vegans have made a lot of progress with alternatives to cheese, whereas non vegan cooks simply say things like "just crumble some tofu and it'll be like ricotta".
posted by davar at 4:58 AM on August 12, 2011

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