Eating Vegan: The Cheese Problem


Probably 80% of the time when I tell someone that I’m vegan the first words out of that person’s mouth are, “I could not live without cheese!” The other 20% of reactions are usually about steak or bacon, sometimes in a mean-spirited way and sometimes not. Today, though, I wanted to talk a little about the cheese thing, since it seems to be what gets folks the most.

I will not lie to you: giving up cheese was probably the toughest part of going vegan for me. Cheese is delicious, and I had what you might call a “cheese problem.” I loved it, but it did not love me. Instead, it played heavily into my high cholesterol. At age 25, my cholesterol was over 250! This was a complete shock, since I was a normal weight and got plenty of exercise riding my bike to and from work every day.

When I cut dairy out of my diet, my cholesterol dropped from insanely high for my age and size to a normal level somewhere between 180 and 190.

All of that is fantastic, but it didn’t make giving up cheese much easier. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of quitting smoking. I craved it and was a little grumpy at first. Store-bought fake cheeses couldn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Times were tough until one day I discovered something that helped. There was one food that worked in the vast majority of dishes that were begging for cheese. It quelled my cravings and didn’t taste fake.

That food was avocado.

From sandwiches to salads to no queso quesadillas, avocados saved the day! In really desperate moments, I even diced some up and ate it plain with a fork. It got me through the tough cheese withdrawal stages.

The other vegan staple with a cheesy taste that doesn’t get enough cred is nutritional yeast. You can find nutritional yeast in the bulk bin at most health food stores. Try sprinkling it onto pasta or salads like Parmesan cheese or mixing it with other ingredients to make a faux cheese sauce. You can even substitute nutritional yeast one-to-one for the Parmesan cheese in any pesto recipe!

There are some excellent cheese substitutes out there for folks looking to give these a whirl. Follow Your Heart makes a few types of vegan cheese that melt. There is also a new brand, Daiya, that makes an insanely good faux cheese from tapioca of all things! Daiya cheese is even soy free, if that’s a concern for you.

Have any of you thought about going vegan but run into a stumbling block? I’d love to hear what issues have stood in your way.

Image Credits: Cheese. Creative Commons photo by ulterior epicure; Avocado. Creative Commons photo by seandreilinger

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36 thoughts on “Eating Vegan: The Cheese Problem”

  1. Hi! I have the same conversation with everyone as well. Everyone I talk to mentions they could go vegan, but not give up cheese. That is great that avocado worked for you. I absolutely love avocado.You mention that Follow your heart melts, but I have had a hard time getting it to melt. How do you get it to melt?

  2. Do you think it’s the texture of the avacado that helped or is it the falvor? I’m going Dairy free and so far completely unable to forget the taste and texture of cheese. Not eating it is pretty easy, not missing it is much harder.

  3. New Vegan – Mostly with patience. It seems to take way longer, and it melts better in the oven in a casserole situation than on the stove with something like grilled cheez.

    Matt – I think it was a little of each. Avocado has a similar rich mouthfeel and fat content. It gets easier with time, like giving up anything, but avocado definitely got me over the hump!

  4. hmm my bigger issue is with eggs. i can handle lack of cheese, but lack of eggs? oh my… (and they are in everything!!)

    1. Vegetarian many years, now have started down the vegan path. cheese and eggs both are giving me a problem.
      Two questions, are eggs ok if no chickens are harmed, we have a few backyard hens who are pets,
      they are free to run,play, hunt and scrach, and have a really nice home to go into come dark. Now they leave us a couple of eggs a day. Is it morally ok to eat the eggs?
      Also does any one know how to do mexican food without cheese? recipes anyone?

      1. Those are good questions, and that first one is a tough one!

        I don’t eat eggs for health reasons, and other vegans avoid them because they feel that using animal products for food in general is wrong. Honestly, I think it’s a really personal decision, and a gut check is where the answer is, you know what I mean? If you feel comfortable eating those eggs but not other eggs, then do that. If you’re eating any eggs, you’re not vegan, but I don’t think it makes you immoral. If anything, you’re eating far more mindfully than the vast majority of people!

        For Mexican food, you can often sub avocados for cheese (in things like burritos, tacos, and even mashed up in quesadillas). For baked dishes, you can just skip the cheese in many cases, use a store bought vegan cheese substitute, or make your own vegan cheese to use.

        1. At this point I’m not eating any eggs, but I miss them when I’m baking, nothing else seems to work to hold stuff together like eggs do.
          The cheese thing, Enchilada’s? have always ordered or made cheese enchiladas.just sauce and tortillas don’t sound very good. I’m good w/ non dairy cheese at home but eating out is a problem. I live in new mexico so I eat mexican most every day. Thanks for your reply

          1. Eggs in baking is a tricky one for sure! The 1T flax meal + 3T water works for binding in many recipes, but I think you’re best off looking up vegan recipes for baked goods, at least until you get a feel for how vegan baking works.

            Could you get veggie ones instead? Maybe ask for something like onions, avocado, and mushrooms inside? The avocado would give it that richness that the cheese does without any dairy. IMO, eating vegan is most important when you’re eating out, bc animal products you encounter in restaurants are most likely factory farmed, unless the menu says otherwise.

  5. We are a big family (all 7) that went veggie a year ago. After a few months we decided to try being vegan (Being veggie was soo easy). It was great but as you said we missed the cheese. It is so hard to have a lot of kids and cut out something that really centers around their world, grilled cheese, Mac n Cheese and Pizza. We decided to go back to veggie and let the kids have their cheese (more limited). We had tried a few recipes for mac and cheez with nutritional yest. It was horrible. The kids could not eat it. And as you said all the other faux cheeses are terrible as well. I really wish they could focus on something to replace it. We still stick to rice milk, and over time hope to rid ourselves of cheese.

  6. I didn’t have a problem giving up cheese. I thought I would, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy to stop eating it.

    The ONLY exception has been pizza – the greasy, fried dough, pepperoni and cheese pizza is the only food that I’ve missed.

    I’m allergic to soy – is the Daiya cheese all it’s cracked up to be? It looks so delicious, and it gives me hope that some day I’ll be able to eat pizza (the kind that I crave) again.

  7. Kate – The egg thing is a great point! That would make a really good follow up. Is it eggs themselves or as a baking/binding ingredient that is a problem for you? I think the latter is much easier to address than the former!

  8. wasVegan – It’s got to be tougher with kids!

    You might give that Daiya brand cheese a try. They stock it at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe, where you can order it online (it arrives frozen). If faux cheeses aren’t doing it for you, your best bet might be to skip the substitutions until your palette has a chance to adjust.

    AlainaOfArc – I can’t say enough good things about Daiya! They’ve really taken the fake cheese thing in a whole new direction. I wish I could afford to buy it more often!

  9. great post, & follow-up comments.

    i’ve been on-again, off-again vegan for several years. born & raised vegetarian.

    a few things i thought i’d chime in on.

    1) sounds like some people have a really hard time dropping cheese. i, personally, ate a ton of cheese before i first went vegan & thought i would have a really hard time with it. turned out, after about a week i was repulsed by the look of it. i hadn’t seen any of the vegan publications that show the horrible conditions animals are put in, so it wasn’t an association thing. it is probably just that the human body isn’t really supposed to be living on cow’s milk,.. but, who knows? i know there is a lot of info out there regarding the fact that it’s not really good for our bodies.

    2) avocadoes are my favorite food! thanks for giving them the plug. i love them. BUT. it can be very difficult to eat them at the right time (not too hard, not too soft). so, if you are unfamiliar with them, get help from someone who loves them :) or be prepared to try them at different stages of their ripening if you don’t love em the first time.

    3) eggs: my fiancee is Polish & couldn’t imagine living without meat or baking without eggs originally. the egg thing, especially. now, she loves it! & she can’t believe that people think you can’t bake without eggs. there are many recipes where you don’t even have to substitute anything! & of course, there are substitutes if you think you need to or if you really do need a binding ingredient (e.g. bananas).

    Great post! & nice to see all the discussion :)

    one more thing

    4) there are a ton of different cheese alternatives (oh yes, i love the nutritional yeast too! great stuff! but don’t expect it to be the same as cheese, it is a different thing — my fiancee loves it too!). anyways, i’m not a big fan of meat & cheese alternatives, in general. but there are some good alternative cheeses out there, i think, and a Lot of different options.

    here is one that Alicia Silverstone swears by:


  10. I went on the web. Nutritional Yeast is $31 a pound. The cheapest price I got was for a 50 pound size!

    For a lot of us, paying $31 a pound for a SUBSTITUTE when the real thing is less than a quarter of the price is certifiably insane.

    Sorry about that. This is just a situation where nutritional yeast should actually cost less than cheese.

    I would like to experiment with nutritional yeast as a substitute for cheese but I won’t because the cost is not understandable or even realistic.

    It’s sad when we have to wait for WalMart to sell it in bulk to get a fair price.

  11. Thanks for the tips! We will slowly faze out as we find products we like!

    The kids have totally changed the way they eat.

    Never thought they could eat soo many veggies.

    And yes we LOVE Avocados!!!!!

  12. Zach, avocados are my favorite food, too! Those are some good tips! I buy them so often, I forget that it’s tricky to know when they’re ready at first.

    Thanks for all the tips…great advice!

  13. Bob – That is crazy! You’re totally right – the prices you’re seeing are way too high. I hope these resources help:

    * If you have a Whole Foods or co-op nearby, those places usually stock nutritional yeast in bulk bins. I think I pay around $3 for a pint-sized container full that lasts me over a week.

    * Cosmo’s, my favorite online vegan store, has shakers of the stuff for just over $5:

  14. I gave up cheese about 6 months ago after being conviced that dairy causes cancers in women. A few weeks later I found out that I already had cancer. Fortunately it was caught early and after a hysterectomy I believe we have licked it for now. I miss cheese very much but my close call with cancer will never let me return to eating it again. I am amazed at how much better I feel since I’ve gone dairy free.

    My favorite chees alternatives are:

    “Cashew Cheese” – buy it at your whole foods co-op or make it yourself easily with raw cahsews (soaked), nutritional yeast, a little garlic and lemon jiuce and some roasted red pepper. Whirred in a food processor this makes an excellent cheese spread – similar in taste and texture to those holiday cheese balls.

    “Pirate’s Booty brand Tings”

    “Rigotta” made with tofu crumbled with nutritional yeast and lemon juice. Great in lasagna and ravilois. Side by side with the real chese it is very difficult to tell the diffrence

    “Homestyle Chex Mix” I missed those little square nips of cheesy crakers so much that I had to come up with a crunchy cheesy tasting snack food. I mix a few tbs. of tahini or peanut butter with some good oil, soy sauce, garlic and onion powers, and nutritional yeast – then toss 1/2 box each of oat o’s and shredded mini wheats in the mix and microwave it for about 4 min (stiring after each minute). Finally, I shake a little Adobo seasoning on it. This is my all time favorite and always have a bowl of it made up, even carrying a baggie of it in my purse. The only problem is that the oat o’s are not totaly vegan (some vitamin D3). It’s as close as I’ve been able to come to a really good, almost vegan, cheesy taste!

  15. Hi everyone,

    I was working at a cheese shop when I went vegan, sticking your head in a person-sized barrel of feta and coming home everyday and having to clean cheese out from under your fingernails is a wonderful way to never want to eat it again. Highly recommended. (Just kidding, obviously.)

    About the eggs…Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz has some tofu omelette recipes that feature black salt, which has a very sulfuric smell/taste that is similar to eggs. So similar in fact, that I made it and then couldn’t bring myself to eat it!!! But if you are craving eggs, it might be perfect!

  16. Geez, the cheese thing… guys, it’s just not worth it! I KNOW it tastes good — heroine makes you feel really GREAT, as I understand it! — but dairy does so much harm, whether you’re looking at health, environment, or ethics…

    If you’ve ever thought of going dairy-free, or already are & have friends that don’t get why, go here:

    It’s definitely a different way of cooking, but once you get use to using other ingredients (along with avocado dishes & nooch sauces, I love making cashew cream sauces, cream soups w/ coconut milk, ‘Dragonfly’s Bulk Dry Uncheese Mix’– from — for ‘queso’ style dip, and any kind of nut cheez… mmmmmmmmm!)… but like anything else, it’s mainly a matter of habit. For me, there are so many reasons to choose dairy-free, I’ll never go back to eating that stuff: no matter WHAT it tastes like, it’s just not worth it!

  17. last time I ate meat was back in 99′ but after all these year’s I’m not absolutely sure when I dropped dairy and turned vegan but it must have been around 2002. I’ve give a lot of vegan cheeses a try and some of they are really wonderful but one thing I miss the most is the blue cheese – I tried the “blue style sheece” but that was the worst disappointment ever.
    Anyway nothing will ever (be it a taste or anything) make me eat anything that is not vegan but I still miss that taste of blue cheese and I’m really puzzled why someone can not make the same without using dairy?
    (sorry for my bad English but it’s my second language)

  18. Drives me crazy how Vegans tend to treat Vegetarians like meat eaters. So what, we eat cheese. We eat eggs. I gave up meat out of respect for the lives of animals but I have to draw the line somewhere.

    In the end it’s fine if you want to live without dairy products but the tone needs to be changed.

    You want to eat cheese? Fighting to drop it? Then don’t. Same with eggs. You are still wonderful for dropping meat.

    1. The thing is, some vegetarians do it for saving animals and say they are against animal cruelty, but the dairy that you consume could’ve gone to a baby cow but instead they were turned into veal. So by consuming dairy you are helping the veal industry. Obviously if it’s just cuz you don’t like meat, or the taste then by all means, but it doesn’t make sense to say your against animals cruelty, and then eat cheese and drink milk. Even if i did stop being vegan and started consuming dairy, i still couldn’t stomach milk….but colby jack or mild cheddar us damn good and i can understand cravings. My thing is, i’m 19 and i’ve only been vegan religiously for the past month, and i’m surrounded by foods i’ve grown up with and have been so use to eating, that the change is difficult for me. Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorites but the only mac n cheese sub. is a nasty “Roads End Organics” brand. And cream cheese i miss and green bean casserole is frickin amazing but i have to find a sub for that also. But it’s worth it knowing that i’m helping baby cows :)

      1. I agree – the dairy industry is very cruel. The way many dairy cows live is abhorrent, not to mention that conventional dairy cows are often pumped full of Monsanto’s hormones to increase milk production.

        Congratulations on making the leap to veganism!

  19. I’ve been a vegan officially since January, but I’ve been a vegetarian on and off all my life (I never really liked meat very much and can’t stand animal cruelty) but having no cheese was a really hard sell for me, especially since I love blue cheese and brie.

    It’s interesting that you suggest avocado as a good alternative, and it is lovely as a spread, but it’s also a tropically-grown and imported food (at least here in Canada) so it’s a little expensive. I’ve seen nutritional yeast around (and sold in bulk) but it never really appealed to me but I’ll give it a try!

    1. Good point on the avocado. I've actually had some guilty moments in front of the avocados at the store when I think about how far they come, but my feeling there is that we have to eat something. It's sort of an indulgence, and if most of my food is local and it's all vegan, I don't mind splurging on an organic avocado once a week or so. Definitely something to think about, though!

      I'll also admit that blue cheese and brie are tough ones. You might look into a brand called Sheese. They make a blue variety…I'd love to hear how you like it! They carry it at Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe, which is online, if you can't find it at a shop near you.

  20. I want to become a vegan but love eggs. I just gave up cheese and am only missing pizza. };)> Occassional meat and cheese replacements are sufficient for me and I love the taste of soy milk. However, nothing has been able to put a dent in my egg craving. Meat has never been big in my book and cheese makes me sick (not lactose intolerant, at least not diagnosed) and I’ve always hated milk, so those were pretty easy to scratch off. Alas, eggs remain the perfect food in my book. I try to tell myself how bad eggs are for my cholesterol and that chickens suffer greatly because of the demand of this animal by-product. In spite of this, I’m still an eggaholic. I also love honey, but have been able to stop that. I do think eggs are a gazillion times tastier than honey, though.

    1. Have you tried Daiya cheese? Some Mellow Mushrooms carry it now, so you might be able to sate your pizza craving that way! Rachel also recently posted a roundup of vegan pizza options that sound so tasty, you’d never miss the cheese!

      The egg thing is tricky. Have tofu scrambles just not hit the spot? I could see that, if you’re hard core into eggs. I’ve heard that a little black salt can give your tofu scramble an “eggy” taste, but black salt is hard to find. Maybe online somewhere? There are also some good vegan quiche recipes out there that use silken tofu in place of eggs.

      I hope this is helpful! Isn’t it funny how we all have our sticking points when it comes to animal foods? Cheese was definitely hardest for me!

  21. Thanks for this thought-provoking post! Funny, I am a vegan who grew up disliking avocado, and only started liking it when I went raw. Now I LOVE a good, ripe avocado…I’m not satisfied w/it as a cheese substitute, but think it can really heighten a meal. (I do LOVE cashew cheese & daiya is at least DECENT tasting & GREAT in texture- I also LIKE the taste of FHY cheese, though the texture doesn’t well mimic authentic cheese well. These HAVE helped to lighten my pizza cravings though- as well as the spiritual & emotional rewards that being vegan brings. :)

    1. Ha! I feel the same about FYH. I love it, but it doesn’t remind me of cheese at all. :) Cashew cheeze is what I eat the most, since it’s so easy to make in the blender. Even my friends who do eat cheese devour that stuff.

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