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Life After Cream Cheese

Bitter life sentence giving up cream cheese?

I decided to give up eggs and dairy six years ago after being a vegetarian for thirty years. I can remember the exact moment shortly after that decision when I realized it meant giving up cream cheese. Whoa. My new commitment to healthy and cruelty-free living was important, yes, but cream cheese? It had been a workhorse in my kitchen since I’d learned to cook with my mom. I’d won blue ribbons at local picnics with cream cheese dishes and high praise from my dinner guests. It was the perfect ingredient: cheap, convenient, dependable, a good team player, and not a show-off. It played an indispensable role in cheesecake, carrot cake frosting, and that breakfast of champions, bagels with cream cheese. Would I never buy the iconic silver box again, never again unfold the soft foil wrapper? Was I forfeiting that smooth, creamy deliciousness forever?

Won't miss cream cheese's fat

Sure, cream cheese is a nutritional under-performer. I wouldn’t miss that part of the sacrifice. Just two tablespoons deliver 100 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 6 grams of saturated fat. Light cream cheese lessens the damage (70 calories, 5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat), and Neufchâtel comes somewhere in between. Even the best food scientists can’t get around the core components: milk, fat (cream), cheese cultures, and stabilizers.

New cream cheese alternatives mean no sacrifice

What are the alternatives? Until recently, tofu-based substitutes were the only option, and they weren’t fooling anyone. But giving up the Philadelphia brick today is not the vow of self-denial it once was. When I dug into my options, I found that plant-based food companies and creative vegan chefs offer many alternatives to cream cheese with the same creamy-tart goodness and the same versatility in the kitchen. The nutritional news was good, too.

The number of companies selling non-dairy cream cheese is higher than ever before. The long-running brands—Tofutti, Go Veggie!, and Follow Your Heart—have been joined by Trader Joe’s, Daiya, and newcomer Kite Hill. Most brands come in flavors like Strawberry and Chive & Onion. These products have devoted followers who use them not just for spreading but also for baking and cooking. Most of these non-dairy cream cheeses are made of water, vegetable oil, soy protein, and thickeners, although Kite Hill goes a different direction with a base of almond milk. The calories per two-tablespoon serving range from 60 to 90. Tofutti brand has the lowest calories (60), while Kite Hill has the lowest saturated fat (zero).

Artisanal cheese spreads incredibly creamy

A new generation of artisanal nut-cheese makers now produces mouth-watering cream-cheese-like spreads using raw nuts, usually cashews. Miyoko’s Kitchen offers gourmet double cream spreads in chive and sundried-tomato-garlic flavors. Other nut-based cheeses are available from Dr-Cow, Parmela Creamery, Treeline, and NüCulture, among others. These alternatives are more for spreading than for baking and cooking, and they’re delicious and unprocessed.

Dropping cream cheese and still being able to make your favorite dishes

Best of all, there are thousands of plant-based recipes online and in cookbooks for making my beloved dishes. They use nuts, tofu, beans, lemon juice, vinegar, and even sweet potatoes to get the texture, taste, and the hold-everything-together smoothness of cream cheese. Below I’ve listed a few of the recipes that took me to non-dairy nirvana. These recipes and the growing number of yummy alternative products have given me the courage to tell Big Dairy to count me out for good.

Appetizers and Dips

 Main Dishes

Desserts

Breakfast Bagels

  • Peanut butter and jelly, banana, berries, or sliced apples
  • Earth Balance margarine and marmalade, jam, jelly, preserves, or cinnamon sugar
  • Vegan Nutella

Lunch Bagels

  • Hummus and any combination of
    • Roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, Greek olives, capers, onion slices, tomato slices, lettuce leaves
  • Olive tapenade and any combination of the above toppings

  • Vegan pesto and any combination of the above toppings

“red velvet cupcakes,” copyright © 2010 F_A on Flickr and made available under an Attribution2.0 Generic license