Even for many of us who have ditched dairy, sometimes a craving strikes for the melty, tangy magic of mozzarella; the sharp, salty bite of cheddar; or the creamy crumble of feta. While these cheeses may be off-limits for vegans in their traditional forms, alternatives have only become tastier and more enticing over the past few years. For every cheesy need, there is a delicious vegan solution, whether for a salad topper, a savory cracker spread, or the crown for a zesty pizza. Do it yourself, and enjoy the perks of customizing your creation with the perfect herbs and seasoning. The internet is loaded with recipes for homemade vegan cheese, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to prepare a killer concoction that won’t make you miss the milky stuff. And guess what—it’s easy.
Your two best friends on this culinary adventure are nuts and nutritional yeast. Though there are exceptions, many vegan cheese recipes contain one or both of these ingredients, often in combination with firm or silken tofu depending on the desired texture. Firmer, crumblier cheeses are usually made from pre-soaked, puréed nuts, whereas thinner cheese sauces often get their umami tang from nutritional yeast. Tahini, sea salt, lemon juice, and dill also make frequent appearances, so stock your cabinets with these fundamentals if you’re planning to experiment. The next step is to figure out what taste and consistency you desire, as the possibilities are endless.
Mac and Cheese, Please
From penne to elbow to fettuccine, pasta becomes a rich, delectable meal with the addition of cheese sauce. Macaroni and cheese, a childhood favorite for nearly everyone, gets veganized with the same deliciously comforting results. For mac-and-cheese style sauce, nutritional yeast can be combined with onion, garlic, lemon, and margarine or non-dairy milk to mimic that creamy, familiar consistency. VegWeb’s Ridiculously Easy Cheese Sauce is a great place to start, ready to nestle up with some noodles in eight minutes or less. If you’re ready to get slightly fancier with the addition of cashews, pimentos, and a little bit of extra time, Melty Cheese is the ticket. Adding blended nuts to the mix will result in a heartier, less watery cheese sauce with a thicker consistency. For a slightly punchier flavor, try Tangy Cheeseless Cheese Sauce, which can also be spread onto bread or poured atop broccoli or cauliflower, or indulge in Nutritional Yeast Queso Sauce, which gets its kick from added salsa. On the other hand, you can always just cut to the chase and make the ridiculously, notoriously tasty VegNews Vegan Macaroni & Cheese.
A Lotta Ricotta
Salivating Garfield-style at the thought of a decadent, multi-layered slice of cheesy lasagna? Ricotta is easy to veganize because of its mild flavor and crumbly texture, easily impersonated by extra-firm tofu, and it can be used in and on a wide variety of dishes. For an extra dash of greenery, Spinach Ricotta is extra simple and makes a great filling for shells, ravioli, and tortellini to boot. Up the zing factor in your pasta, salads, and wraps with Tofu Feta, which has lemon, oregano, and red pepper flakes.
Truly the food of the people, pizza is the reigning king of savory, decadent snacks for day, night, or somewhere in between. Veganizing mozzarella is somewhat tricky, but certainly doable with the use of some off-the-beaten path ingredients. VegWeb’s Gluten-Free Mozzarella is deceptively stretchy through the use of glutinous rice and tapioca flours.
The Ideal Wheel
Ready to get fancy with some serious silver platter-worthy cheeses? Fancy nut cheeses come in many forms, and incorporate spices and herbs for an extra touch of class. Cashews are the most popular nut of choice for vegan cheese-making, but macadamias and almonds can also work. Healthy Happy Life’s herb-crusted Vegan Cashew Cheese is somewhat process-heavy, but has only three simple ingredients—cashews, salt water, and sea salt—that can be subsequently customized with garlic powder, pepper, and spices. Suggested flavors include basil, lemon, and sweet maple, but the sky’s the limit. Aromatic, tangy, and sophisticated, Affairs of Living’s Pepper-Crusted Cashew Cheese with Herbs would be the star attraction at any wine and cheese party, with its beautiful pepper-studded crust and creamy white center. Its secret is chickpea miso, which adds the mouthwatering quality of umami, as well as the use of fresh, bright green herbs. For a spreadable treat with a fresh boost of dill, Ginger Lemon Girl’s Homemade Almond Cheese reigns supreme—any cracker would be honored to make its acquaintance.
Vegan cheese-making may seem like an intimidating process at first, but it really just involves experimentation and manipulation of a few simple ingredients. Use your kitchen as a laboratory for creamy creation, and the world of vegan cheese awaits your imaginative innovations.
Photo by Garrison McArthur Photographers