Welcome to our 13 Steps To Go Vegan's challenge number 6: Cheese... Yes... Cheese!
If you are following our ‘Steps to Go Vegan Program’, you are now on step 6!
You have really learned a lot! You know how to:
- Create a range of vegan breakfasts!
- Make a vegan choice and explore vegan communities.
- Find and engage in vegan communities.
- Whip up Vegan lunches that are healthy and delicious.
- Organize yourself for snacks, and you’ve made them vegan.
If you have not been following this challenge, don’t click away! This guide will help you dig deep into our cheese obsession and also address it.
We explore vegan cheeses and… shock, horror… contemplate a life without dairy cheese. Humans are pretty much addicted to cheese. It is a fundamental part of much-beloved dishes, and it can feel like a real hurdle to move away from the camembert, gouda, and cheddar. We’re going to help you give it up for good.
Problems with dairy cheese
Why is cheese (and all dairy) so terrible, and why don’t vegans eat it? There’s a lot to say.
Health impacts of cheese consumption
From a health perspective, dairy (and especially cheese) is high in fat (and saturated fat at that) and cholesterol, which means, even when eaten in moderate quantities, it can increase the risk of many diseases. Click on the following links to see the wonderful Dr. Gregor explain the research on how a plant-based diet can prevent, treat, and reverse many of our biggest killers.
Environmental impacts of cheese
The environmental footprint of cheese is pretty substantial: 400 gallons (1500 liters) of water is needed to make 1 pound (500 grams) of cheese.
Ethical impact of cheese
From the animal's perspective, dairy is terrible. Once people find out what truly happens at a dairy farm, most will sympathize with the animal’s point of view.
The only way to make a cow produce milk is for them to have a baby. For many, this is quite a revelation because we often think cows simply ‘give’ milk. For these animals to get pregnant, they are artificially inseminated. During the nine-month gestation period, the mother cow develops a bond with the baby inside her. Sadly though, within two days of her birth, the calf is taken away, which causes considerable distress to both the mother and baby.
The calf isn’t allowed to take the milk of its mother, because it is destined for human consumption. Once the calf is born, it's either killed for veal if it is male, or if it is a female, she’ll spend the rest of her (short) life as a milk-producing machine.
This cycle continues for the female about 4-5 times, until the mother is no longer of use - i.e., it is more expensive to keep her alive - at which time she is taken to slaughter, where she will end up as mince or burgers. Cows naturally live until the age of 14 years, but in the dairy industry, this is shortened to around 4-5 years. For most males in the veal industry, it is even shorter at 18-20 weeks.
Why is dairy cheese such a challenge to give up?
It tastes really good
For many people, cheese is a huge mental stumbling block and with good reason. Cheese is food we have often eaten since we were very young. It is found in many foods we LOVE, like pizza or mac and cheese. We eat it with wine, there are a uncountable types of it, and it all tastes so good! It's not wonder many people think they can never give up cheese!
Could cheese be addictive?
Perhaps there is a reason we are so drawn to cheese. While scientists are still not 100% convinced of this, there is a theory that could explain our addiction. Cow’s milk (and goat’s milk) contains casomorphins, which is an opiate produced by the mother when lactating. The reason? To keep the calf from wandering too far when they are young and ensure they keep going back to the mother. So, why is cheese more addictive than other dairy milk products? Well, cheese is more concentrated with these casomorphins; it takes 10 lbs of cow’s milk to make 1 lb of cheese. There is a possibility that cheese is addictive.
Cheese is so savory
Cheese is also one of the few foods that has an umami profile. Most people know we have four tastes: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. But there is also a fifth - Umami! Umami flavors are savory, so think cheese, meaty broths, cured meats, and many people (including us) love umami flavors. Let’s not forget there are many of us who love fat and salt, and cheese has both of these in abundance. Cheese is, on average, 90% fat. When looking to leave cheese off our plates, we need to consider all these things. So, how can vegans manage without cheese? Well, we can just try going without, but another way to go is to replace it in a roundabout way. We need to consider foods that create the flavor profiles of cheese, i.e., umami, fat and salt. So what can we do?
Alternatives to dairy cheese
Take back cheese’s power
Now, this might seem crazy, but do we really want to be beholden to a food and for it to have so much power over us? You have agency over what you eat.
1. Go without
Pizza without cheese is not a disaster and, in Italy, the Marinara pizza is a staple on every menu. If that doesn’t do it for you, try adding capers and olives for the salt hit and then ask the chef to add avocado as it comes out of the oven for an extra velvety, fatty taste. If cooking for yourself, try searching for vegan versions of your favorite cheesy dishes. You’ll find mac and cheese made with tahini and pumpkin and lasagne made from tofu and nutritional yeast.
2. Try some premade vegan cheeses
If you have not tried vegan cheese for a while, but you have terrible memories of cheese that was limp, rubbery and would not fool anyone, then we are happy to tell you that times have really changed! We have very good cheeses that are either good substitutes or indistinguishable from dairy cheese. There are some less than stellar cheeses out there, but trust us, they are MUCH better than they used to be.
Vegan cheeses that you can buy are split into two categories not dissimilar to dairy cheeses:
The mass produced cheeses
These are ones that are sold in the refrigerated aisle of your supermarket (yes, most supermarkets will carry at least a few vegan cheeses these days). The base of these cheaper cheeses are usually some sort of oil.
Reality check: These ‘cheaper’ cheeses are still a bit more expensive than the cheap dairy-based cheeses for many reasons. You might find it a bit more expensive to buy as much vegan cheese as you did when you bought dairy cheese. This is actually a good thing. Cheese and oily vegan cheese are not exactly healthy and adding cups and cups of either cheese into sauces and lasagna. Keep it for special occasions or use it sparingly. It’ll be better for your health and your wallet.
These cheeses are more your cheese-board style variety. Cheese that you have with wine or as an aperitif. These cheeses usually have a base of nuts, are aged and fermented. Because of the ingredients, length of the time it takes to make them and small sales volume, these cheeses are usually quite expensive. This should be really that surprising as all the fancy aged and gourmet non vegan cheeses are also more expensive that the cheddar shreds you buy at the supermarket,.
Where can you buy vegan cheeses?
Most supermarkets will carry at least a small range of vegan cheeses. The range will depend on the size of the store and the clientele of the supermarket.
These are all the vegan cheeses that were available at our local supermarket. Click on a photo to see it bigger.
Vegan grocery stores
Most big cities these days have a vegan grocery store which will carry a wide range of vegan cheeses. If you don’t have one near you, you can often order them online and they ship the cheeses to you with dry ice.
A vegan grocery store will always have a wide range of cheeses including some more specialty ones. Click on a photo to see it bigger.
Health Food Stores
If your local grocery store doesn’t carry many vegan cheeses then try your local health food store might have a few more options.
Because vegans are so innovative and want to bring vegan cheese to the masses, you might find a small stall selling vegan cheeses at your local farmer’s market! We have a vendor of vegan cheeses that sells in our local farmer’s market every few weeks (in a town of only 20,000 people).
Unsurprisingly, in those fancy schmancy grocery stores like Whole Foods, you will find a huge range of vegan cheeses.
Direct from the vendor
You might find that vegan cheese vendors offer some sort of mail order service. Here is one that I know of in Canada. You might even find a vegan cheese subscription box. That is a subscription service that we would sign up for!
How can you make vegan cheeses?
Vegan Cheese Cookbooks
Lastly, you can make your own! There are even whole cookbooks devoted to vegan cheese making and so many recipes online. Cheese making is a fun and rewarding activity especially if you start delving into fermenting and aging your cheeses. It can be quite addictive. Here you can see my recent efforts to recreate a much loved Camembert.
The Uncheese Book by Jo Stephaniak: This book is a little older and does not really touch on many of the aged cheeses, but their lasagna is simply fantastic!
Artisan Vegan Cheeses by Miyoko Schinner: One of the first cookbooks by the Queen of vegan cheeses herself, Miyoko Schinner! She was really one of the pioneers of aged vegan cheese.
The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook by Skye Michael Conroy: Skye helps you with not only vegan cheeses, but all other vegan dairy products.
This Cheese is Nuts!: Delicious Vegan Cheese at Home by Julie Piatt: Beautifully photographed, this book focuses on nut-based cheese.
One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese: Make Mozzarella, Cheddar, Feta, and Brie-Style Cheeses -Claudia Lucero: Sometimes we can’t wait for a month for our vegan cheese. Get it in an hour with this book.
Vegan Cheese Online Courses
If you want to delve deep into vegan cheesemaking in the form of an incredible video course then look no further than Brownble’s course.
What about dining out?
When you are going out as a vegan and looking to avoid cheese, the best way to do this is to choose the vegan option. You can also try omitting cheese from a dish for example a cheeseless pizza or pasta arrabiata without parmesan. Many pizza places now offer vegan cheese (usually with a small surcharge) which allows you to customise your favorite pizzas and some other restaurants will offer a similar option too. Vegan restaurants, especially comfort food ones will have all your favorite cheesy dishes from your childhood made vegan! Here is a delicious nacho fries with vegan queso from one of our favorite places in Vancouver
As our friend Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says: “There is life after cheese and it is a much better life!”
We wish you all the best with your vegan cheese endeavors, and when you are ready to Step 7, simply click right here (COMING SOON)!