The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
June 27, 2010

I’m looking for a cheese subsitute that isn’t just processed fake cheese in plastic wrap and doesn’t suck.

Shredded cheeseI’m toying with the idea of veganism — toying with it as a cat toys with an injured mouse before finally killing it — but I constantly run up against the cheese issue. I love cheese. Cheese is the king of my world, and all other foods exist in service to it. Veggies, pasta, bread, nuts, crackers, and even leftover Chinese food are mere vehicles for that sublime substance.

Going plastic-free was hard at first because I couldn’t find good cheese not wrapped in plastic. Finally, I ended up purchasing an entire 12-pound wheel of Perenzin San Pietro hard cheese (much like parmesan only better) coated in beeswax without any plastic. I bought it almost a year ago, and I still haven’t eaten it all because, like parmesan, a little sprinkling goes a long way. But also, it’s lasted this long because it’s so hard to cut into and grate that I don’t just wolf it down like I might cheddar… I didn’t, that is, until recently.

I made the discovery, after 45 years of life, that my food processor (with its BPA-containing plastic pitcher, but that’s another story) has a grater attachment. Who knew? Um… everyone in the world but me, apparently. I went online to the Cuisinart web site and watched a video that changed my whole understanding of life as we know it. And soon after, I had grated every last bit of that cheese and stored it in mason jars in my freezer. (Very hard, dry cheese keeps fine in the freezer.)

And now I’m eating that cheese on everything and sharing little bits with Arya kitty, who loves cheese almost as much as I do. It’s starting to look like I’ll actually run out sooner than later. And then what will I do? Like I said, I’m toying mercilessly with the idea of veganism, but I just can’t figure out how to quell whatever craving it is that only very sharp cheese can satisfy. I’m hoping you guys can help.

Here are the characteristics I am looking for:

1) Real food, not a fake cheese substitute. I am not interesting in eating processed foods with their empty promises. I’m looking for some food, or a combination of foods, that can satisfy the desire for cheese without actually trying to be cheese.

2) It’s got to have some combination of sharp, tangy, nutty, sweet, salty, and umami. What is umami? Why, it’s the 5th taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) which is sometimes described as savory. The food I’m looking for has got to have that combo of very sharp with sweet and nutty. I’m not looking for a mozzarella or cottage cheese substitute. I want flavor, and a lot of it.

3) Obviously the ingredients cannot come wrapped in plastic.

My initial thoughts…

I’m thinking the solution might have something to do with an oil like olive oil and a tangy citrus like lemons, and maybe some actual nuts. What do you guys think? Recipes are warmly welcomed!

24 comments
Natashia
Natashia

By my vegan friends I"m told this is the only cheeze that not only melts like milk-based cheeze, but tastes AMAZING. I haven't tried it yet, because I consider it to be outside of my price range, but here it is - http://www.daiyafoods.com/

M
M

I see I'm the lone one out here, but my body does not do well with nutritional yeast. I'm pretty sensitive to msg and I think the nutritional yeast has a similar effect on me. Just as a forewarning : / Nut cheeses can be pretty tasty depending on how you use them though, but they are like sitting down and munching a piece of cheese....

Pheas
Pheas

The following vegan mac'n'cheese recipe has gotten raves at every potluck it's seen. Omnivores love it, too, and one (not realizing it was vegan) even exclaimed that it was the best mac'n'cheese he'd ever had! It should be pretty plastic-free except maybe the margarine, but substituting oil with perhaps a little non-dairy milk might work. This is NOT health food, but it IS comfort food. Ingredients: 1 box elbow macaroni or shells 1/2 c vegan margarine 1/2 c flour 3 1/2 c boiling water 1 1/2 t salt 2 T soy sauce 1 1/2 t garlic powder pinch turmeric 1/4 c oil 1 c nutritional yeast flakes paprika Cook pasta according to box directions. Start heating the 3 1/2 c water so it will be boiling when needed. Melt margarine in saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and continue to beat over medium heat until smooth and bubbly. Whip in 3 1/2 c boiling water, along with salt, garlic powder, soy sauce, and turmeric, beating well. Cook until thickened and bubbly. Whip in oil and yeast. Add sauce to macaroni, mixing part and pouring part on top. Sprinkle with paprika and bake 15 minutes at 350F. Put under broiler for 3-5 minutes until sauce becomes stretchy and crisp.

rob
rob

I love cheese, or rather remember loving cheese. It's something that you'll get over after eating vegan for a while. The salt & fat is addictive, but once the addiction is gone you won't crave it. Nutritional yeast is a good substitute on pasta and many other things.

Meg
Meg

@Beth I'm glad you did look into what happens at dairies and wrote about it. Thanks for sharing the link here. I don't know if I saw that post or not. That was before I became a vegan. It's amazing how many people -- including a lot of vegetarians -- have very little clue about milk production. Biologically, it's not so different from how our own species produces milk. And you're right -- it is very sad. It's sad and completely unnecessary. @Pheas Thanks! And mmm.... I love nut "cheeses".

Pheas
Pheas

Well said, Meg. A diagram of the anal/vaginal rape used to inseminate dairy cows can be found here: http://www.thecattlesite.com/articles/721/artificial-insemination-for-beef-cattle (And note this is an industry source, not a pro-animal source.) There was an article in VegNews in the last year or so that covered artisanal vegan cheeses. I haven't tried any, but as I remember they sounded very fancy and were packaged in paper or wax and made from fermented almonds or cashews.

Meg
Meg

@Daxle "Usually handcrafted artisan cheeses from small farms with very well treated animals." There is no way to make cheese that involves non-human animals being treated "very well", especially if we talking about a place that makes a profit. Small farms might look nice, but for cows (and other mammals like goats) to lactate, they have to be impregnated repeatedly, usually about once a year. About half or more of their children will be males. Males are of no use to dairies alive. They're killed or sold to someone who will kill them (they are the source of veal and anyone who thinks veal is awful should remember that when drinking/eating the milk intended for them). The females will usually be kept to join their moms, though they are weaned as early as possible and often bottle-fed because otherwise humans couldn't use the milk that was intended for the babies. Their mothers will endure the suffering of repeated pregnancies and having their children taken from them. They will mourn them. When the mothers can no longer be made to produce milk in sufficient quantities, they will almost always be killed because it simply makes no financial sense to keep them around otherwise. The animals themselves often produce more milk than they would in nature because they've been bred to (and often they're given drugs to up production even more). This puts added stress on their bodies along. Mastitis is another common problem associated with that. It is painful and can even be fatal. This is the norm, even when talking about the nicest organic, small, family-owned, free-range "humane" dairies. The fate of many cows and goats is much, much worse. If you haven't already, please try Daiya. It is a very good vegan cheese that is not at all gross (and I agree that at least many are). But even if you think it is, I hope you will find the very real and unnecessary suffering of animals to be far more disgusting.

Daxle
Daxle

If you were previously into really fancy cheeses, or even just decent cheeses, you will find that there is absolutely no substitute. The best that you can hope for is to thoroughly hide some fake cheese in a heavily spiced recipe that normally calls for cheddar or mozzarella. I debated this issue with myself for years and the conclusion I finally came to is this: On a day to day basis there are millions of tasty recipes that don't call for cheese, especially Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese recipes. Most vegan recipes don't call for fake cheese (cause it's gross!). Daily, even weekly, sometimes monthly, I go without cheese and don't notice since it's been so long. Occasionally, though, I have a bit of really nice cheese. Usually handcrafted artisan cheeses from small farms with very well treated animals. I especially love Cowgirl Creamery. If you want *really* local cheese, check this out http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pxdiaz/delphinium-cheese-co-small-batch-artisan-cheese

Danish girl
Danish girl

Hurray for nutritional yeast also from Europe! I was pretty much a cheese addict as you were, but went cold turkey, when I became a vegan. After a while I discovered this very simple and wonderful alternative. For starters, try to make a homemade pizza. Put all the veggies on top that you like. Instead of cheese, you now do this: Mix nutritional yeast with soy cream so that it gives a creamy paste. And you take spoons full of this and put it where your mozzarella would normally be. Bake as a normal pizza. I swear, this is so much better than real cheese. I could bathe in it, I could eat bowls of this mixture. If I would have the choice to lick icecream or this yeast-soy mixture off someone, I'd go for the latter. That's how good it is. There are also more sophisticated recipes out there, like this one: http://www.theppk.com/recipes/dbrecipes/index.php?RecipeID=122 But try the simple stuff first, you won't regret it! Chee(r)s from Europe and keep on rocking, Beth!

Melissa
Melissa

I am vegan and absolutely love Daiya cheese. You can buy it in a 5lb bag, but again its a plastic bag. You can make some fantastic things with nutritional yeast. I highly recommend the Hurry Up Alfredo in Vegan Yum Yum! Even omnis will eat it.

Pheas
Pheas

Lots of good suggestions above. You can also probably find a tasty nut-based cheese at a raw-food restaurant. I never thought I'd be able to do without cheese, but once those heroin-like casomorphins cleared my system, I didn't have the cravings anymore.

Alyssa
Alyssa

There are a lot of "cheese" sauces you can make with various combinations of nutritional yeast, cashews, tahini, miso, lemon juice and garlic with other spices. I think pretty much every vegan cookbook has its own vegan cheese recipe. As far as something that tastes just like cheese? You're not going to find it. The closest thing there is is Daiya, and it comes in plastic and it's more of a product than a food. Part of becoming vegan is re-training your taste-buds. I went cold turkey on cheese, and didn't try any cheese substitutes for a LONG time, because I knew they wouldn't live up until I forgot about how cheese tasted. Now I can't imagine eating the real thing anymore. By the way, I think http://thebloomingplatter.blogspot.com/ has the most vegan cheese recipes I've seen, so I would recommend checking that website out for ideas.

Aussie Elv
Aussie Elv

First - congrats on the vegan consideration. Don't freak out if it takes a while. I was vegetarian for five and a half years before I went vegan, and I had been thinking about it all that time. Sometimes it creeps up on you and sometimes you just need that 'ah ha!' moment to push you over the edge. So here's an important piece of advice: don't expect faux cheese to taste and act like cheese. You can get fake cheese to do one or the other, but a plastic-free (aka homemade) substitute is not going to meet both taste and behaviour. Keep in mind that this is only my limited experience. I am still experimenting, so don't take my word as gospel. I suggest figuring out the purpose of the cheese in the dish and trying to work out what is the best thing you can use to achieve the same aim. Also, substitutes can grow on you and trying them without a 'substitute' expectation helps. For example, when I first went vegetarian it was hard to find dairy yoghurt without gelatine, so I thought I'd try soy yoghurt. I was expecting it to taste like dairy yoghurt and it really really didn't. I was so put off by it that I just didn't eat yoghurt - dairy or soy - for about three years. Then I thought I'd give the soy yoghurt another go. I went into the tasting with the expectation that it was not going to taste like dairy yoghurt, and without this pre-conceived idea, I was able to focus on the flavours that were there. To my surprise, I rather liked it! (And I've lived happily ever after with soy yoghurt.) Anyway... I hope it goes well for you. Don't be disheartened when it feels difficult (and for a cheese-lover, it will be). Sorry my comment is not all sunshine and rainbows, but I figured it would be better to be realistic. I've found veganism challenging, but ultimately worth it. Best of luck!

Lisa Borden
Lisa Borden

add to your food procerssor - 1-2 cloves of garlic turn on processor to mince, then add 1 cup sprouted sunflower seeds big handfuls of your favorite herbs (i use dill and parsley and chives) - equal to your average bunch you would buy in plastic if either of us did that! :) juice from one juicy lemon turn on processor and add 1/4-1/2 cup of water depending on if you want it to be a spread or sauce stores in fridge well I find a new way to enjoy this constantly, right now, it's with a bit of honey mustard and sprouts on a great slice of toast. Also delicious as a sauce on spiralized zucchini noodles (another plastic gadget required, ack!) tossed with fresh tomatoes. Signed, reformed cheese freak

Rita Vail
Rita Vail

I've been eating all raw this summer and noticed in my vegan raw recipe books (guess I can't call them cook books!) lots of directions making nut cheese, which is easy - if you have a juicer you make nut milk by soaking nuts and then juicing them. I am 62 and this is the ONLY way I have been able to lose weight. It gets harder as you get older. I love coconut butter. It takes care of those cheese cravings.

Jeanne
Jeanne

Mudnessa, I can vouch for the popcorn thing. It is amazing, especially if you use some salt, pepper, and chili powder with it. Soooooo good. Jeanne

Brenna
Brenna

I think it depends on what you are using it for. There are so many great recipes out there that don't include fake plastic wrapped cheese. Nutritional yeast is a good choice for some things or try making your own "ricotta" from almonds or "cheese" from cashews. You have to realize that it isn't going to be the same and start cooking with alternatives accordingly. That is the hardest part, shifting your thinking from finding a substitute to cooking for the ingredients you have.

mudnessa
mudnessa

Cheese was the one thing I was worried about missing more than anything when I went vegan. At first it was hard and I did buy and quite enjoy the soy cheese blocks wrapped in plastic. Now I don't because I have gotten over that craving finally. I read somewhere that you become sort of addicted to cheese and milk products because of something in it. If that's true then I guess I hit the point where I no longer crave them. I don't have any substitute recommendation for you other than you may just want to try and you may eventually crave whatever it is that you crave from the cheese you may not anymore. Have you had nutritional yeast? I haven't been able to find any but it might be a good substitute for cheese in certain situations. I've heard it's good on popcorn and stuff like. Actually now that I just googled it it seems it might be just what you are looking for. I think I am going to really try and find some for myself now.

Meg
Meg

Get The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. The answers/recipes are in there and it is really worth buying if you think you'll have a problem giving up cheese (though feel free to see if you can get it from the library before you decide to purchase it or not). Lots of cheezy recipes, mostly using nutritional yeast and/or nuts -- both of which you should be able to find in bulk bins -- plus some seasonings and various other ingredients. I'd be very surprised if you couldn't find something in there that would work and the uncheeses are much healthier than animal cheeses (if not "health food"). Just nuts and/or nutritional yeast alone are also both good for adding savoriness, too. I've heard that cats love nutritional yeast, too, fyi. Plus, nutritional yeast (despite the name) is yummmmy. And it's a good source of protein and B vitamins. It usually comes fortified with B12, too -- a good thing for those of us eating a plant-based diet. (Don't worry, the source is vegan. It comes from bacteria whether you get it from fortified foods, supplements, or animal products.) Also, even if you feel like it's impossible to live without cheese right now, give it time and your tastes will change. I used to love cheese on everything. Even though I LOOOOVE Daiya vegan cheese (not plastic free, but darn tasty) and many of uncheese recipes, I just don't have the cravings for it that I used to. And I certainly don't crave the "real" thing now that I know what goes into the production of it.

Jeanne
Jeanne

Hey Beth, Have you ever tried nutritional yeast? You can get it in bulk from most organic food stores. It's a pretty delicious substitute for Parmesan and can be used to add lots of umami to sauces. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutritional_yeast Jeanne

Betsy DiJulio
Betsy DiJulio

@Alyssa Thank you so much for suggesting folks visit The Blooming Platter.  I'm honored.  (I just saw this even though it's three years old!)  I'm not sure if my old and inactive blogspot site still redirects people automatically, so I hope you and everyone else will visit my new(er) site at www.thebloomingplatter.com.  Thanks again.  Cheers!