Your guide to dairy-free dishes in Madison
Replace traditional cheese and ice cream with alternatives to cow milk.
Saying no to cheese in the dairy state is almost a crime, but vegan cheeses have improved so much that you’ll almost forget that they’re not the real thing.
A vegan diet means no meat or animal byproducts, including milk. Millions of people are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. About 65% of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, according to MedlinePlus. Dairy products also can cause bloating, acne and inflammation.
The Green Owl Cafe, one of the few exclusively vegetarian restaurants in Madison, makes vegan cheese sauce and sliceable vegan cheese in-house, but it occasionally uses brand-name cheese alternatives for specials. Owner Erick Fruehling says the vegan cheese sauce is made with a cashew base, and then they add nutritional yeast or miso to create the cheesy flavor we come to expect from a queso-coated dish.
Everything on the menu at The Green Owl Cafe is vegetarian, but dishes can also be made vegan.
“Making everything vegan was a natural process for us,” Fruehling says. “We work hard to not just leave dairy products off but to have an equivalent vegan substitute for every dairy option. Often dairy cheese eaters prefer the vegan cheese sauce.”
Fruehling says everyone loves the cheese sauce so much, The Green Owl Cafe eliminated the cheddar cheese option on the deluxe nachos. The cashew cheese sauce combined with walnut chorizo or jackfruit carnitas make this a fan favorite.
While vegan cheeses are more accessible now, Fruehling says Green Owl makes its own to control the quality and reduce costs, as do a few other restaurants in town. Traditionally cheesy dishes like pizza, charcuterie and cheese curds are all offered dairy free, so it’s easy to still enjoy your favorites.
Bar Corallini devoted an entire menu to vegan offerings, so dairy-free pizza is a mainstay. You’ll want to bring the grilled eggplant pizza home with you ASAP. Savor grilled eggplant, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and olive oil with the housemade vegan tofu ricotta, fresh herbs and garlic. If that pizza doesn’t satisfy your craving, the vegan ricotta can be substituted or added in any dish. 2004 Atwood Ave.
Don’t skip splitting a charcuterie board at Estrellón, which has created house-made vegan cheese wheels for its artisan cheese plates. The vegan cheese is not a fixture on the menu, but a special request. In the past they’ve created curry-flavored and kimchi-flavored wheels. 313 W. Johnson St.
Dairy-free folks no longer need to miss out on a quintessential Madison dish, Ian’s Pizza’s mac ’n cheese pizza. The all-time bestseller can be made vegan with house-made creme and mozzarella and Good PLANeT’s cheddar. 3241 Garver Green; 100 State St.; 319 N. Frances St.
Vegan cheese curds — say what? That’s right, at MadisonTap you can find a twist on this bar food staple. Made with Daiya cheese and deep-fried to perfection, MadisonTap’s vegan cheese curds can be accompanied by vegan ranch if you want to omit the dairy in your dipping sauce. 829 E. Washington Ave.
Indulge in Ice Cream
Cheese isn’t the only dairy favorite — let’s not forget about ice cream. Many of Madison’s ice cream makers have created dairy-free alternatives that look and taste just like the real thing. Katrina Ervin of Ice Cream Social typically uses coconut milk in her vegan offerings. In the past she has created flavors like lemon curd, peanut butter fudge and Basic Batch with pumpkin and roasted, candied pecans.
“All of my ice creams are also gluten free, so when people started requesting [dairy-free] and vegan flavors, I knew I wanted to be inclusive of people with dairy allergies or anyone with a vegan lifestyle,” Ervin says. “I can’t have gluten and I know how tough it is to find great ice cream when you have certain dietary restrictions, so I wanted to make sure my vegan friends were being taken care of.”
Disney fans are no strangers to the Dole Whip, a pineapple soft serve ice cream. Miko Poke makes its own rendition of the sweet treat, and like everything else on its menu, it’s completely dairy free and gluten free. Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream also creates nondairy soy alternatives. When you stop in for a cone, you may find espresso Oreo soy, raspberry nebula soy or black cherry soy, among other flavors. It also creates Italian ice that is completely dairy free. In 2013, Babcock Hall Dairy Plant introduced lactose-free options, so keep your eyes peeled for this tasty alternative, lactose-intolerant friends.
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