Finding and Using Non Dairy Cheese For a Vegan Diet

Vegan cheese. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? How can a vegan, who, possibly for health reasons, has chosen not to eat animal products, eat something that is obviously made from milk?

The answer is that instead of cows’ or goats’ cheese, a vegan can choose from a range of non-dairy cheeses. But even here care is needed.

Exercising Caution

A lot of dairy cheese is made using rennet, an enzyme extracted from the stomach of a calf. Vegetarian and vegan cheeses are made without rennet but some cheeses, which may be suitable in vegetarianism, including some made from soy milk, still contain casein or calcium caseinate. This is a milk protein that helps give texture to cheeses. To be completely sure you’re avoiding animal products, read the ingredients carefully. And look for the logo of the Vegan Society.

Quite a wide range of vegan cheeses is available and the choice is growing all the time as more and more people choose, for health or ethical reasons, to give up dairy products and opt for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. But having said that, vegan cheese can be hard to find in your local corner shop!

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. If demand is great enough, it will have to be met although the larger supermarkets are probably better starting places. A number of vegan cheeses can already be found in larger branches of Sainsburys, for example.

Names to Remember

Three names crop up most when searching for recommended – and tasty – vegan cheese: Tofutti, Cheezly and Scheese. These are all easily available on the internet by mail order.

A useful book to have is Animal Free Shopper, available from the Vegan Society. It’s a pocket-sized guide covering all sorts of vegan products including comprehensive supermarket own brand listings.

How to Use Vegan Cheese

Vegan cheeses come in hard and soft form and different styles e.g. cheddar, stilton and brie. They can be grated, sliced, spread or used as pizza topping like any dairy cheese but their properties are slightly different. Most can be used to replace dairy cheese in traditional recipes but try out your favourites first before offering them to guests as they may not turn out just as you expected!

Tastes Like Cheese

Nutritional yeast flakes play a valuable role in a vegan’s diet, helping to give a cheesy taste to many dishes as well as providing vital nutrients. These are yellow flakes (not to be confused with brewer’s yeast) that, can for example, be sprinkled on top of mashed potato for a cheesy topping to your meat-free shepherd’s pie. Yeast flakes are available from health food stores and via the internet.

Macaroni ‘Cheese’

  • 3 cups macaroni
  • ½ cup vegan margarine
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • 3½ cups boiling water
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • Pinch turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • Paprika

Pre-heat the oven to 190oC, gas mark 5.

Cook the macaroni as instructed on the packet. Drain and set aside.

Melt the margarine. Stir in the flour and mix, over a low heat, until you have a smooth paste. Mix the salt, garlic powder, turmeric and soy sauce with the boiling water and gradually add to the pan, stirring constantly until you have a smooth liquid. Return to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring. Remove from the heat and whisk in the oil and yeast flakes.

Place the macaroni in an ovenproof dish. Stir in most of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with paprika. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes then finish off under the grill for a few minutes. Serve with a green salad.

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