I don’t talk a lot about how I struggled to give up cheese when I went vegan years ago; I don’t want people to think that living dairy-free is so difficult that they put it off or, worse, never even try. For many people, ditching dairy is only moderately difficult; for others, it isn’t hard at all. But for some it’s a real obstacle; one of the most consistent objections to veganism I encounter is “I could never live without cheese!”
But the truth is that while we joke about dying without dairy products, millions of cows and calves are killed each year in the name of dairy production, with calves cruelly torn from their mothers at birth even on small, so-called humane dairy farms. So even though I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I don’t miss cheese anymore, I’m constantly on the lookout for new vegan cheese products to try, in the hopes of finding one that would satisfy even hardcore cheese lovers.
Frankly, I haven’t had a lot of luck. I’ve tried some store bought vegan cheeses, as well as some fancy ones available online; at best, there were a couple that were okay if melted. But for cold slices or wedges, I have never found anything that was delicious and strongly reminiscent of dairy cheese, until discovering the brilliant new cookbook, The Non-Dairy Evolution. Written by esteemed vegan chef Skye-Michael Conroy, The Non-Dairy Evolution contains over 80 delicious recipes for plant-based cheeses, butters, milks and creams, including cultured cheeses, buttermilk, and sour cream; block and wheel cheeses that shred and melt beautifully; egg alternatives and eggless egg dishes; and scrumptious non-dairy desserts.
These recipes are easy to follow and extremely user-friendly; many of the block cheeses, including Cheddar, Mozzarella, Provolone, Brie, Havarti, and Muenster— take less than 15 minutes to make, with only 8 or 9 ingredients involved (they then refrigerate for a few hours). But best of all is the taste. Not only are these cheeses reminiscent of dairy cheese; some of them, like the mozzarella, muenster, and pepper jack, taste so much like their dairy counterparts that I would have a hard time believing they weren’t actually dairy, if I hadn’t made them myself. Click through the photo gallery below for more information, mouthwatering images, and two exclusive cheese recipes from The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook. Scroll down for Frequently Asked Questions about the cheese ingredients, and for ordering information.
Frequently Asked Questions about Vegan Cheese
Questions sometimes arise about two of the main ingredients in The Non-Dairy Evolution’s sliceable block cheeses (which include the Cheddars, Mozzarella, Provolone, Muenster, Jack, Swiss and Havarti.)
These cheeses can be made using soy milk, almond milk, or cashew milk, as well as an ingredient called carrageenan, a thickening agent derived from seaweed that is used in many foods (including many dairy cheeses and other dairy products). While almond milk and cashew milk can be used successfully for people with soy allergies, Chef Conroy recommends soy milk for best results. He writes:
The Block and Wheel Cheeses are created through a process known as emulsification. Simply stated, emulsification is the process where two or more ingredients that wouldn’t normally mix together, such as oil and non-dairy milk, are blended together into a homogenous mixture.
The cheeses were formulated using pure soymilk, therefore pure soymilk is recommended for achieving the best results. Homemade almond milk, when prepared according to the recipe in this cookbook, can also be used successfully for preparing the cheeses.
Homemade raw cashew milk can potentially be used as an alternate to soymilk or almond milk; however due to the composition of raw cashew milk, heat and stirring alone will not successfully emulsify the milk with the oil and an immersion blender is required to force emulsification while the cheese is being cooked. This can be a little tricky until you have become proficient at preparing the cheeses using soymilk or almond milk. Due to their watery consistency and abundance of additives, commercial nut milks, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk and coconut milk beverage are not recommended for preparing the cheeses.
There is, in my opinion, a lot of unwarranted fear-mongering around soy milk these days, and carrageenan has also been in the “scary foods” spotlight. I contacted Virginia Messina, who is one of the most respected dietitians and vegan nutritionists in the country, in large part because her claims about vegan nutrition always err on the very conservative and cautious side; they’re also backed up by extensive research.
Messina had this to say in response to my questions about carrageenan:
“As far as I know, all of the studies on health effects of carrageenan have been in animals—mostly rats—so I don’t think they tell us too much about effects in humans. It’s very often the case that large amounts of a substance fed to animals produce problems that never occur in humans who are consuming more normal amounts of that substance. So I’m not concerned about health effects of carrageenan, and I do consume products (like soy milk) that contain it.”
There’s also a significant difference between the type of carrageenan that caused health problems in rats — “degraded carrageenan” — and the type that is used in human foods. Yet even though degraded carrageenan and food-grade carrageenan are different, the harmful effects of degraded carrageenan have been mistakenly associated with food-grade carrageenan. Scientific assessments support the safety of food-grade carrageenan. But just as some people show sensitivity to foods such as beans, dairy, or nuts, some people show sensitivity to carrageenan, and experience gastrointestinal issues when they consume it; for most people, however, it is not a problem.
Carrageenan is difficult to find in stores, but can be ordered online. I order the brand recommended in the book, which is the Kappa Carrageenan from Modernist Pantry. A 2 oz. bag runs around $12, but this will make at least 8 large wheels of cheese, as very little carrageenan is used. A 16 oz. bag is $32, which is very economical if you decide to start making the cheeses on a regular basis.
What kind of soy is safe?
As for soy, while most of the misinformation behind the soy scare has been debunked, I still see a lot of reactionary, unproductive comments from people who insist on linking all soy products to GMO. This simply isn’t accurate, and it’s hugely unhelpful to animals, because many people who might be open to veganism associate a vegan diet with soy foods. The truth is that many large grocery franchises carry at least one brand of organic, non-GMO soy milk (and tofu), and most natural foods stores carry several varieties. For best results with the cheeses in The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook, Chef Conroy recommends using a soy milk without additives, such as Westsoy Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk, which is carried in many stores and can also be ordered online.
For more information on soy, please see Virginia Messina’s article “Soy Isoflavones and Estrogen.” For a well-researched contextualization of carrageenan with citations, please see “Is Carrageenan Safe?”
To order The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook on amazon or directly from the author, please visit the website, The Gentle Chef. For cooking support with the recipes in the Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook and The Gentle Chef Cookbook, and for general vegan cooking information and tips, please join The Gentle Chef group discussion forum on facebook. You can also follow the facebook page The Gentle Chef.