How I Live a Life Without Cheese: Thoughts, Ideas, & Recipes for a Dairy-Free Diet

Thump. Thump. ThumpTHUMP-thump. Thump.

About a year ago, I was experiencing some strange health issues. I felt sluggish, my digestive system was not happy, and the constant thump-THUMP-thumping heart palpitations were unnerving to say the least.

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet.So, after ruling out any dangerous cardiac conditions, I went to see a naturopath for the first time. When she suggested I remove dairy from my diet to see if it made a difference, I admit I had a hard time believing that dairy could be the culprit. But I was willing to try anything. Studies show that 60% of adults have some level of lactose intolerance, so maybe it wasn’t that far-fetched after all.

And sure enough, my symptoms ceased. I felt clearer, lighter, less gastric pain, and my heartbeat returned to normal. Over the course of the year, I’ve challenged the theory, and whenever I eat certain kinds of dairy – cheese, in particular – the palpitations return. (Note: If you are experiencing similar symptoms, please go see a medical professional NOW. I am far from one!)

At first, remarkably, I was fine with eliminating dairy. I just wanted to feel better. But then, the reality of a dairy-free diet set in. The stuff is in everything! Especially delicious things!

Worst of all was giving up cheese. This girl really loves her cheese. And as a vegetarian, I must say that cutting the dairy from my diet has been far more difficult than giving up meat ever was.

Ultimately, though, it’s a small sacrifice for my health. And the fact is, even though two sweeping categories of food – meat and dairy – are no longer a part of my diet, the food options are still vast. Infinite, really.

But, man. There are times when nothing compares to a big, cheesy plate of amazingness. Lasagna, macaroni and cheese, pizza, frickin’ grilled cheese. Whimper.

So here’s how I manage to live a life without cheese. First, I’ll talk about some lactose-free (vegan) cheese options, then I’ll list some of my favorite cheesy foods along with alternative ideas. I’ve also linked more than 50 recipes – all dairy-free, all delicious!

If you, too, are facing a life without cheese, I hope you’ll find it useful.

vegan cheeses

There’s a whole world of vegan cheeses out there. This guide from Oh My Veggies is a great place to start, and this plant-based party platter is full of inspiration too. Here are some of the vegan cheeses that find their way into my kitchen:

Nut Parmesan

If I’d known about nut parmesan (also known as “fairy dust”) before going dairy-free, I still would have consumed it with delight. In a, um, nutshell, cashews or almonds are finely ground then mixed with nutritional yeast flakes, salt, and perhaps a little garlic powder. The result is remarkably reminiscent of actual grated Parmesan cheese and is oh-so delicious on pasta dishes, soups, and especially sprinkled over popcorn.

Recipes to try:

Cheese Made from Veggies

With a little ingenuity, remarkably creamy and cheesy sauces can be made with a handful of miracle veggies – namely, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash. Usually, nutritional yeast is added as well. Yes, “nooch” is somewhat of a strange ingredient, but make the leap! It’s worth it (plus it’s an incredible source of vitamin B-12).

Recipes to try:

Tofu Cheese

I’ve started making two different kinds of “cheese” – ricotta and feta – from tofu, and I’m continually surprised by how close it tastes to real cheese! Tofu ricotta, especially, takes on the exact creamy consistency of actual ricotta – it’s really kind of uncanny. Plus, like dairy cheese, it’s a great source of protein!

Recipes to try:

Cashew Cheese

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Smoky Chipotle Cashew Cheese from @tastingpage.

Smoky Chipotle Cashew Cheese

Although I haven’t yet tried making cashew cheese myself, it’s such a popular option overall that I would be remiss to leave that option out. From milks to coffee creamers to creamy sauces and the above-mentioned Parmesan, raw cashews are the most amazing ingredient for a dairy-free diet, bar none. As if it wasn’t amazing enough already, you can also make cheese with it!

Recipes to try:

Store-Bought Vegan Cheese

For me, it’s not as simple as simply swapping out actual real dairy cheese with store-bought vegan cheese. Because 1) I try to eat very little processed food and 2) well, it’s … just not the same!

The best brand I’ve found is Daiya, which, thankfully, is pretty widely available. I’ve tried most of their products, and I like (and can recommend) two of them. Trader Joe’s also makes a soy mozzarella that shreds and melts almost like the real stuff, though it’s pretty light in flavor.

We have pizza every Friday night, and on the rare occasion, I’ll top mine with Daiya mozzarella-style shreds. It “melts and stretches” as their package proclaims, and reminds me enough of my mozzarella days that I consider it a treat.

I also like Daiya’s provolone-style slices for grilled cheese if I really have a hankering. Frankly – and this is not to knock any vegan cheeses, because I am glad they exist – the key to enjoying them is low expectations. Don’t expect the ooey gooeyness of your past cheese-filled life. But they fit the bill in a pinch.

Recipes to try:

classically cheesy foods that can still be plenty delicious without it

Okay, so here are some of the classically cheesy foods we all know and love, along with some of the cheese-free alternatives I’ve been enjoying.

Pizza

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Vegan Summer Pizza with Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, and Fresh Basil from @kitchentreaty.

Vegan Summer Pizza with Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, and Fresh Basil

We have pizza every Friday night. So health-wise, it’s perhaps a good thing that I had to nix the cheese!

I’ve tried vegan pizza many ways over the past year, and I have to say, a pizza without cheese isn’t really as depressing as it sounds! I’ve found that you either need to have 1) some element of creamy (to make up for the creaminess the cheese would have contributed, like a creamy sauce or flavorful pesto), or 2) add a little vegan cheese to the mix – either nut parm or store-bought. Otherwise, good ingredients like an amazing homemade crust and a terrific sauce go a long way.

Recipes to try:

Macaroni & Cheese

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Creamy Vegan Stovetop Mac and Cheese from @kitchentreaty.

Creamy Vegan Stovetop Mac and “Cheese”

I waxed poetic about how much I love macaroni and cheese in this post, which is also one of the most popular recipes ever on Kitchen Treaty. But, hey, going cheese-free is an opportunity to be creative in the kitchen, right? Oh, who am I kidding. I miss mac and cheese.

But there are a few options that come surprisingly close to the real thing. Many of them involve some sort of vegetable-based cheese sauce, and they’re remarkably creamy and delicious. There are also options out there that utilize cashews or store-bought vegan cheese products.

Recipes to try:

  • Creamy Stovetop Vegan Mac & Cheese – This mac & cheese uses sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and no nutritional yeast if you’re not quite ready to try it or (what happens to me often) you’ve run out. I love this stuff!
  • Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese from Fork & Beans – Another veggie based version, this one uses cauliflower and butternut squash. I love the cauliflower especially – it gets so silky and creamy smooth when pureed.
  • Grown-Up Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese from Go Dairy Free – this version replicates the roux-and-cheese base that  is the heart of most classic mac and cheese recipes. It uses almond milk and store-bought vegan cheese and though I haven’t tried this one yet, it looks remarkably good!
  • The Best Vegan Mac & Cheese from Detoxinista – cashews make this creamy version happen.
  • Chipotle Mac & Cheese with Roasted Brussels Sprouts from The Post Punk Kitchen – another cashew-based dream.
  • Vegan Mac & Cheese with Butternut Squash Noodles from Food, Faith, Fitness – Creamy butternut squash noodles with a creamy, cheesy cashew-based sauce. Yum.
  • Creamy One-Pot Pumpkin Pasta – This is not a mac & cheese recipe, but that creamy, tasty sauce is sure reminiscent of many of the qualities of classic mac. I encourage you to give the dairy-free version a try!

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Tangy Cheese Sauce on a Beastly Pretzel Slider from @spabettie.

Tangy Cheese Sauce on a Beastly Pretzel Slider

This recipe for White Pizza Grilled Cheese went viral in Kitchen Treaty’s early days, and trust me, this decadently cheesy sandwich – and grilled cheese sandwiches in general – are one of my favorite foodstuff. Ever. And I hate to say it, but I’ve really not been able to come close to replicating a good grilled cheese sandwich.

Occasionally, I’ll make grilled cheese sandwiches for the family and for mine, I’ll use either olive oil or vegan butter along with a slice of vegan provolone cheese from Daiya. It works.

I’ve also used hummus in lieu of cheese or cheese substitutes altogether. I haven’t quite perfected that one, but it’s passable.

Recipes to try:

Lasagna

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Creamy Mushroom and Kale Vegan Lasagna from @ohmyveggies.

Creamy Mushroom and Kale Vegan Lasagna

This is another cheesy delight that’s hard to come close to replicating. This summer, I worked on a version of this no-bake summer lasagna with tofu ricotta swapped in for the cheeses. It was pretty good! (I need to perfect it and will share the final recipe next summer.)

There are a few ways to go about dairy-free lasagna. First, you can just swap out the cheeses with store-bought vegan cheeses. Done. You can also create a tofu ricotta that tastes much like the real thing – it’s uncanny and delicious in lasagnas. Another great ricotta sub can be made with cashews. Or perhaps a bechamel-like cashew cream? Seriously, is there anything cashews can’t do?!

Finish up with a sprinkle of nut parmesan and deliciousness ensues.

Recipes to try:

Quesadillas

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Dairy-Free Green Chile Enchilada Quesadillas from @forkandbeans.

Dairy-Free Green Chile Enchilada Quesadillas

Quesadillas are another tough one. Again, store-bought shreds are one option. Another way to go about a cheese-free quesadilla? Try inserting some avocados. They add the creaminess that you’re missing – so good.

Recipes to try:

Queso/Cheese Dip

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Velvet Vegan Cheese Sauce from @namelymarly.

Velvet Vegan Cheese Sauce

Cheese dip – one of life’s most divine foodstuffs. This is a tough one to give up.

We’ve got a few plant-based alternatives, though. Pureed veggies with lemon juice, garlic, and other flavorings can fit the bill surprisingly well. There are also cashew-based recipes out there, too.

Recipes to try:

  • Velvet Vegan Cheese Sauce from Namely Marly – This dairy-free queso reminds the author of American cheese, but it has two surprisingly healthy ingredients thrown into the mix, pumpkin and chickpeas! Some store-bought shreds seal the deal in this recipe.
  • Vegan Butternut Queso from The First Mess – A seriously swoon-worthy imitation of the real thing.
  • Spicy Chickpea Nacho Cheese Sauce from The Plant-Strong Vegan – Chickpeas and spicy peppers add creaminess and heat, respectively of course, to this creamy dip.
  • Nacho Sweet Potato Cheese from Connoisseurus Veg – An excellent rendition of nacho cheese, with the color to match the flavor!
  • Cashew Queso from The Post Punk Kitchen – Cashews and miso make a darn tasty combo.
  • Vegan Mexican Cheese 3 Ways from Minimalist Baker – Three different ways to get your queso fix, dairy-free. Can’t beat it.

Pesto

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: Grilled Summer Vegetable Sandwiches with a Vegan Pesto from @kitchentreaty.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Sandwiches with a Vegan Pesto

Okay, so pesto isn’t necessarily a “cheesy” food but it usually contains a good dose of Parmesan. I’ve found that either leaving the cheese out completely or adding in a bit of nutritional yeast still yield a glorious pesto. It’s all about the herbs and green + garlic + olive oil anyway!

Recipes to try:

Cheesecake

How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Take a look at these thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet. Pictured: No-Bake Vegan Cheesecake from @roastedroot.

No-Bake Vegan Cheesecake

Yup. No dairy = no cream cheese = no cheesecake = waaahhh.

Some tasty no-dairy cheesecakes are out there, though. Most make use of either cashews or tofu, and they’re really decadent and delicious!

Recipes to try:

  • No-Bake Vegan Cheesecake from The Roasted Root – Creamy, dreamy, and cashew-based. And when covered in figs and honey … drool.
  • Raw Blueberry Cheesecak from Go Dairy Free – From the almond-date crust to the creamy cashew filling to the blueberry topping, this one is definitely special-occasion worthy.
  • Dairy-Free Coconut Cheesecake from Jamie Oliver – Cashews + coconut + dates = yes please.
  • Vegan Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake from Minimalist Baker – Firm silken tofu gives this autumnal cheesecake its creamy lusciousness.

in conclusion …

See? It might not be so bad to live a life without cheese.

Do you have any dairy-free ideas or recipes you’d like to share? Or a favorite cheesy food you’d like to see made dairy-free but is still delicious? Be sure to share or make a request for ideas in the comments below!

Read more

Now that I’m living dairy-free, I’ve got an ever-growing collection of dairy-free recipes (or recipes with dairy-free options) right here on Kitchen Treaty! Give ’em a look.

Terrific vegan blog It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken has about a gazillion dairy alternative ideas in this post and video.
How I Live a Life Without Cheese. It really is possible! Thoughts, ideas, and 50+ recipes for a dairy-free diet.

Karen Raye

Kare is a vegetarian home cook living among carnivores. She loves creating irresistible and flexible recipes that help multi-vore families like hers keep the peace - deliciously.