How I Live a Life Without Cheese: Thoughts, Ideas, & Recipes for a Dairy-Free Diet
Hello, and welcome to “How I Live a Life Without Cheese!” If you’re facing a dairy-free diet and you, too, are wondering how you can possibly live without cheese, there’s hope!
This is a long, comprehensive blog post, updated for 2020, with a lot to read through about vegan cheese recipes, store-bought vegan cheese, and cheesy recipes without the dairy. So I recently added a Table of Contents to make it more navigable. I hope that helps!
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Why I Eat a Dairy-Free Diet
- Vegan Cheese
- Classically Cheesy Foods That Can Actually Be Plenty Delicious Without Dairy
- In Conclusion/More Reading
Introduction: Why I Eat 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.
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!)
(2018 update: I’ve since been tested and found I have a sensitivity to whey, a protein found in dairy products. Bittersweet confirmation!)
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 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.
There’s a whole world of vegan cheeses out there, both homemade and store-bought. Here are some of the vegan cheeses that find their way into my kitchen these days.
Homemade Vegan Cheese
Homemade 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:
- Cashew Parmesan from Detoxinista
- Almond Parmesan from A Simple Veganista
- Vegan Parmesan Cheese with Hemp Seeds from Eating Bird Food
- Vegan Cacio e Pepe from me, using delicious nut parm!
Homemade “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:
- Vegan Butternut Welsh Rarebit (one of my all-time favorite recipes!)
- Creamy Cauliflower Sauce from Detoxinista (a dairy-free adaptation of Pinch of Yum’s glorious creation)
- Cauli-Power Fettucine Alfredo from Oh She Glows
- Sweet Potato Nacho Cheese from Blissful Basil
- I have not tried eggplant-based cheese (WHAT!) but I’m also pretty intrigued by this Cashew-Less Vegan Queso from Minimalist Baker.
Homemade 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:
- Watermelon & Marinated Tofu “Feta” Skewers
- Tofu Basil Ricotta from Happy Herbivore
- Vegan Tofu Feta Cheese from Simple Vegan Blog
Homemade 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:
- Go-To Cashew Cheese Recipe from The Full Helping
- Vegan “Goat” Cheese from Spa Bettie
- Smokey Chipotle Cashew Cheese from Tasting Page
- Classic Cashew Cheese 3 Ways from Nutrition Stripped
Store-Bought Vegan Cheese
When I first wrote this article in 2015, it wasn’t as simple as just swapping out actual real dairy cheese with store-bought vegan cheese. Because vegan cheese just wasn’t the same! But it’s now 2020, and there are now some really delicious vegan cheese products out there!
Kite Hill makes a wide variety of vegan yogurts, and a couple of decent cheeses as well. I often buy Kite Hill almond ricotta cheese for pizza and vegan lasagna. It’s creamy and really, really similar to the real thing, both texture and taste-wise. Kite Hill also makes a nice cream cheese. They also carry refrigerated tortellini and ravioli products at my local grocery store with their almond ricotta inside. So good!
Vegan chef Miyoko Schinner is behind this vegan brand that makes some innovative vegan cheeses and a really great vegan butter too. Their cheese wheels come in a creative variety of flavors, and they have a couple of mozzarella cheeses to choose from too: Fresh Vegan Mozzarella and Smoked Vegan Mozzarella. It doesn’t get melty like real mozzarella, but they taste pretty good (especially the smoked version). Their vegan cream cheese is great too – it has a nice tang to it.
Also unique to Miyokos is their line of roadhouse cheeses – pub-style cheese dips. I haven’t tried one of these yet but can’t wait to!
Treeline’s high-quality products are made from naturally cultured cashews. And their vegan cheese is really great – one of my faves! It’s perfect for epic vegan cheese boards. Treeline carries both soft French-style cashew cheeses (my favorite is scallion) and aged cashew cheese wheels. They also have a delicious cream cheese.
Chao by Field Roast
I love Chao cheese! It comes in slices that are shockingly melty and delicious. Personally, I think Chao is the best vegan cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches. It comes in three flavors: Creamy Original, Garden Herb, and Tomato Cayenne. The latter is a bit too spicy for me, but I love both Creamy Original and Garden Herb in grilled cheese. A nice slice of Creamy Original heightens my Tofurky or Field Roast sandwiches too. Field Roast also has a new Chao mac and cheese product that looks interesting!
Daiya is probably the most widely known and available brand of vegan cheese. Out of their entire line-up, I can only really recommend their shredded mozzarella, and even then, it’s not the best. We have pizza every Friday night, and on the rare occasion that I’m really missing mozzarella, I’ll top mine with Daiya mozzarella-style shreds. It “melts and stretches” as their package proclaims, and does the trick.
Violife is a recent discovery that makes a decent shredded mozzarella. If I had to choose between the two for Friday pizza night, Violife wins. I have heard from other readers that they enjoy their other products too.
Recipes to try:
- Jalapeno Macaroni & Cheese Cups from Diethood
Classically Cheesy Foods That Can Actually Be Plenty Delicious Without Dairy
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.
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:
- Vegan Summer Pizza with Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Basil – The creamy sauce made with pureed coconut milk, garlic, and corn totally makes this pizza. So good.
- Vegan White Pizza from Veggie Angie – That transcendent roasted garlic and coconut milk sauce and the pop of sun-dried tomatoes? Yum.
- My Favorite Vegan Pizza from Minimalist Baker – Dana sautes the veggies before baking her pizza and swears by it. I’ve tried it – it definitely makes for a tasty pizza! A dusting of cashew parm completes the picture.
- Deep-Dish Vegan Pepperoni Pizza from Namely Marley – that homemade pizza crust, vegan pepperoni, some vegan cheese shreds and nut parm … if you’re really missing traditional pizza, carnivore style, this decadent affair should do you nicely.
- Florentine Dairy-Free Pizza from BBC Good Food – if you’re a meat-eater removing the dairy from your diet, this delicious-looking pizza has plenty of options for you.
Macaroni & 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. (I now have a cashew-based vegan shells and cheese recipe that is on constant rotation around here!)
Recipes to try:
- Ridiculously Creamy Vegan Shells & Cheese – Cashew based and SO GOOD. Just swap out the shells for macaroni if you want the full-on mac and cheese experience.
- 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!
- 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
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. WAIT, SCRATCH THAT! It’s now 2020, and I can now say that I’m all about Chao slices in grilled cheese sandwiches. A bit of olive oil or vegan butter on the outside of the bread, cook like any ol’ grilled cheese, and you’ve got some serious melty grilled cheese bliss. (Scroll up to the Vegan Cheeses section to read more about Chao).
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:
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches from Vegan Yumminess – That vegetable-based cheese sauce looks ooey-gooey-melty perfect.
- Vegan Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions from My Whole Food Life – A “cheesy” cashew-based sauce along with a smattering of veggies make this sandwich a contender for sure.
- Tangy Cheese Sauce on a Beastly Pretzel Slider from Spa Bettie – Not a classic grilled cheese per se, but dang if this cheese-and-bread combo doesn’t look insanely good.
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 once I have!)
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:
- Vegan Lasagna with Lemon Basil Cashew Cheeze from Oh She Glows – This incredibly decadent-looking version makes use of a lemon basil cashew “ricotta” along with store-bought shreds. Yum!
- Ultimate Vegan Lasagna from Vegetarian Times – This one uses both tofu ricotta and vegan cream cheese.
- Vegan Butternut Squash Lasagna with Cashew Cheese & Kale Pesto from Food By Mars – Creamy cashew cheese, pesto, and butternut squash make an extra-healthy lasagna.
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:
- Green Chile Enchilada Quesadillas from Fork & Beans – Avocados, onion, black beans, green-chile sauce, and a homemade grain-free tortilla recipe to go along with it for those who are eating gluten-free. Yes yes.
- Vegan Avocado Quesadillas from The Garden Grazer – Super simple yet creamy-dreamy good.
- Quickie Cheeseless Quesadillas from Happy Healthy Life – More avocado plus mashed beans help ensure you’ll never give cheese a second thought.
- Black Bean Cashew Cheese Quesadillas from Earthgiven Kitchen – Cashew cheese and Daiya shreds both lend cheesy goodness.
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.
- 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.
Okay, so pesto isn’t necessarily a “cheesy” food but the traditional stuff usually contains a good dose of Parmesan. But I’ve found that either leaving the cheese out completely or adding in a bit of nutritional yeast and lemon juice yields a glorious pesto. The parm is an afterthought!
Recipes to try:
- My Very Favorite Vegan Pesto Recipe – A versatile, vibrant pesto that proves no parm is needed.
- Dairy-Free Basil Pesto from Overtime Cook – Another great dairy-free pesto option.
- Grilled Summer Vegetable Sandwiches with Pesto – A creamy vegan pesto brings these veggie sandwiches to life.
- Vegan Pesto Parmesan Breadsticks from Minimalist Baker – We’ve got vegan pesto and vegan parm for these bad boys, and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.
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!
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
All about vegan cheese including homemade and store-bought (updated for 2020!), plus 50+ recipes for making classically cheesy foods deliciously dairy-free.
- Nutritional Yeast
- Lemon juice
- Chao cheese
Originally posted October 3, 2015. Updated January 28, 2020.
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