So you want to be vegan but you love cheese. I totally get it. Before making the transition myself, I was a cheese-loving vegetarian, and I thought I would never go vegan, “No way! I love cheese too much!”
That was kind of silly of me! First of all, going vegan doesn’t mean you don’t get to have cheese anymore, just no dairy cheese. There are tons of wonderful vegan cheese options out there, from popular and moderately priced shreds and slices, fancy, artisanal aged nut-cheeses, and plenty of amazing homemade recipes.
I’m pretty content with the amount of cheese I enjoy on a vegan diet and I haven’t even come close to trying all the amazing options that are available! So let’s talk about how to transition to veganism if you love cheese.
Different Ways You Can Cut the (Dairy) Cheese from Your Diet
Have you checked out my resource for Transitioning to Veganism? If not, that’s a great place to start. You’ll find a bunch of tips to help you prepare for going vegan, 3 different methods for transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, and all my thoughts on barrier foods and all-or-nothing thinking. What’s a barrier food? It’s the one food someone might bring up when they say “I’d love to go vegan but I could never give up X!” It’s the barrier between you and you being vegan. If cheese is your barrier food, go read the part about barrier foods now and then come back!
Ways to Cut down or Cut out Dairy
See if some of these ideas seem to suit you. Don't be afraid to try a different approach if one doesn't work for you! And of course, if you've got your own plan. Give it a go!
1) Tackle Cheese at the End of Your Transition, When You Feel Comfortable with Your Mostly Vegan Diet
If cheese is a barrier food, transition ALL other non-vegan foods to vegan alternatives and get really comfortable with them before trying to remove cheese from your diet. Then you can move on to these next ideas.
2) Whittle Your Cheeses and Cheesy Meals down to Your Absolute Favourites
First of all, start by completely cutting out cheese(s) that aren’t your absolute favourite(s). If it's not the cheese you absolutely love, don't bother with it anymore. Take a look at your meals and stop putting cheese in meals that don’t really benefit from it. Unless it’s actually much less enjoyable without cheese, go without. Once you're comfortable at this point, move on to option #3, #4, or #5.
3) Take It Sloooowly and Gradually
Slowly and gradually reduce your cheese consumption. You can do this by removing one type of cheese at a time, by incrementally decreasing the amount of cheese you put in your usual meals, or by slowly crowding out cheesy recipes with new, dairy-free recipes and meals.
Building on #3, I like the idea of buying vegan cheese BEFORE going vegan and working them into ALL of your cheesy dishes. Maybe start out with a ratio of 75% dairy cheese, 25% vegan cheese. After a week or two (adjust the timing based on how YOU feel!) change it to 50/50, after a while decrease to 25/75, until you’ve comfortably switched to vegan cheese with little discomfort.
4) Go Cold-Turkey
(I’m sorry, I don’t have enough restraint to not mention how badly I wanted to say go cold-tofurky)
Cut out all the cheese. Avoid temptation: Don’t even look at pizza. Avoid all food social media. Don’t watch commercials. Avoid restaurants with your favourites cheesy-dishes. Just completely isolate yourself from all things cheesy. Honestly, the cravings WILL go away.
(FYI: There’s a lot of talk about the possibility of cheese having an addictive quality from the breakdown of casein to casomorphins in the digestive track. I’m not going to pretend to understand it or tell you whether I’m convinced that it is or isn’t true. But if you’re interested you might want to do research into casomorphins, casein, and possible appetite stimulating (especially for high fat foods) and addictive qualities in cheese.)
5) Go Kinda-Coldish-Turkey
Try what I did and just decide when you are going to stop buying animal products. At that time, whatever cheese remains in your kitchen is your to eat however you please. Maybe you ration it for a while, maybe you just finish it up right away. It's totally up to you, but once it's gone, you're done.
6) Pretend Vegan Cheeses Aren't Trying to Mimic Your Old Favourites
I hope this makes sense because I really like this little mind trick and it helps when I'm trying new-to-me vegan cheeses. I don't try to compare them to their non-vegan counterparts (whether it's named cheddar, or mozza, or gouda-style, whatever - I try to sort of push that away and judge it all on its own.) I pretend they're just under the big "cheese umbrella", and like cow's milk, or goat's milk cheeses, vegan cheeses are just plant milk cheeses. They're new to me! I don't need to compare them to anything else. (Especially if they just taste good!)
7) Don't Let Barrier Foods or All-Or-Nothing Thinking Derail Your Desire to Do Better
Give it time and be patient with yourself. Don’t let all-or-nothing thinking prevent you from making positive changes in your life. If cheese is a real struggle for you, try to cut down your cheese intake as much as you can. Make a difference by choosing vegan options everywhere it’s possible and practical for you to do so. If it takes you a really long time to cut out cheese, that’s okay! But try to challenge yourself and try to do the best you can. There is absolutely NO REASON for allowing one food be your excuse for rejecting veganism all together. Do what you can! Be the best you can be!
My Experience Giving up Cheese
I went vegetarian around the age of 13. Growing up I loved cheese. In fact I loved all dairy. I don't mean that I consumed quite a bit of dairy, I truly mean that I consumed an obscene amount of dairy as a kid. Milk was like water to me. Cheese was a main food group. Going vegetarian might have even exacerbated my love for dairy. I thought it was the best way to get protein! My point here? I swear, if I can give up dairy, MOST people can probably give up dairy. I haven't met many people who seem to have matched my previous dairy intake but I am SO content without cheese and milk now.
My Vegan Cheese Transition
Here’s my experience (I’m not sure I’d recommend this way, I didn’t have veganism in mind as my goal when I started decreasing my cheese intake. I figured I should include how I went about it anyways though.) PS: I live in Canada so that influences my choice in vegan cheeses and my thoughts on pricing.
I was on a tight budget at the time so I didn’t need to worry about cutting out fancy cheeses. I wasn’t buying them anyways! First I cut out cheddar/mozza and almost exclusively ate that soft spreadable swiss cheese that comes in wedges. At the same time I started using ingredients like hummus and avocado in a lot of the places I used to eat cheese. I didn't try too hard to limit myself, I was trying to add more foods into my diet. I did this for months. Then I decided to go vegan. At this point I decided to stop buying any animal products and just finish up whatever animal products were left in my kitchen. So I was still eating that spreadable swiss cheese, but a lot less often (this probably lasted a month or so.) Then I was done. I was already used to substituting ripe avocado, guacamole, and hummus most places I would have used cheese. For months I kind of avoided all cheese. I think early into my foray into veganism I tried a few vegan cheese options and I was totally underwhelmed. I decided to stick with my avocado/hummus swap and just accept that cheese wouldn’t be in my life anymore. After a many months of living essentially cheese-free I tried Daiya cheese again and realized that I did like it, but I preferred using waaaay less Daiya than I would have used of dairy cheeses. Slowly I found the taste grew on me and now I just really like it! After not having dairy cheese for a long time, I really enjoy vegan cheese now. In my case, I found it helpful to have that big gap between eating dairy cheese and trying vegan cheese. It was like I had enough time to forget dairy cheese enough to not make comparisons or something?
My Favourite Vegan Cheeses and Substitutes
Daiya Mozzarella and Cheddar-Style Shreds - My usual go-to because it's pretty darn good, it's convenient, widely available, and it's a reasonable price. Great for pizza, nachos, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, cheesy sauces, cheesy soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, tofu scrambles, and breakfast sandwiches
Earth Island Cheddar-Style Slices (Follow Your Heart Slices in the US) - Great for cold sandwiches, burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and grilled cheese sandwiches
Daiya Chive & Onion Cream Cheeze - Great for toasted bagels, sandwiches, creamy sauces (PS: This stuff used to be awful! They’ve recently improved the recipe and WOW, it is SO GOOD now! If you tried the earlier version and didn't like it, please give it another chance!)
Nutritional yeast - Great for cheesy sauces, cheesy soups, sprinkling in sandwiches and over pasta and casseroles (it’s even better turned into cashew parm - Combine 1 cup nutritional yeast, 1 cup raw cashews, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp onion powder, ¼ tsp sea salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles dried Parmesan cheese. Do not over process. Store in an air tight container.)
Soyganic Smoked Tofu - This is an enjoyable alternative to the processed smoked gouda I used to love. This tofu isn't as salty as I'd like it to be (because I'm pretending it's cheese) but with nice salty crackers (like Triscuits) and dill pickles, it satisfies all of my salty cheese and cracker cravings. (Daiya also makes a pretty widely available Smoked Gouda but I haven't bought it in quite some time. It's definitely worth a taste if that interests you!)
Panago Pizza - (a Canadian-based pizza chain) just so happened to be my go-to pizza joint during my pre-vegan days. They've since added Daiya mozzarella to their menu (they've got veggie pepperoni too!) so I still get to eat my favourite delivery pizza. I get the "Garden Veggie" and I remove the mozzarella and fire-roasted tomatoes and I add Daiya and meat-free pepperoni.
Avocado & Hummus - They’re not cheese (obviously!) but they do add creamy, fatty, salty deliciousness to salads and sandwiches! (Season that avocado though!)
Homemade Recipes - I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't gotten around to trying ANY vegan cheese recipes. I keep getting deterred by some of the barely-weird ingredients that are so common (like tapioca starch or vegan probiotics) but those are both pretty useful/non-perishable types of ingredients that could be well used in a vegan household. Don't let my silly avoidance of homemade cheeses make you think it's difficult or not worth trying for yourself!
Got Any Tips for Cutting out Cheese? Share Them in the Comments!
Got any tips or experiences for cutting out cheese for good? Do you have a favourite cheesy vegan recipe or brand that totally killed your desire for dairy cheese? I’d love to hear them and include more ideas in this post!