I can't remember just now if I've blogged about it before (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but both my daughter and I are allergic to cow's milk. Over the years, I've found a number of pretty decent substitutions that I can just throw in a recipe measure for measure.
My basic go-to milk is Silk® Soymilk. I've tried just about every commercial soy brand out there and this one comes the closest to the taste of cow's milk. Even my dairy-loving husband agrees.
For cooking, Silk works great as well. I've also tried both Almond and Hazelnut Non-Dairy Beverages from Pacific® Natural Foods. They are nice if you're looking to add a bit of nuttiness, such as in a quick bread recipe. I found that I tasted them a bit more than the Silk, though in sauces and other milk-based items.
One of the few items I'd still really like to find a good source for, but haven't yet, is dry milk powder. I haven't looked too hard for it yet, since it's not something I use that much, but I'd love to be able to make a hot cocoa mix, for example, that I could just add water to and drink on these cold winter days!
My daughter's favorite is Silk LiveTM Soy Yogurt. I like the price, as it's usually the cheapest of the soys, but the taste, especially plain and vanilla, are a little off for me. I prefer WholeSoy & Co.® Soy Yogurt for myself. Unfortunately, it generally costs half again as much, so I'm as likely to eat the Silk as not.
Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Yogurt is tasty, but extremely cost prohibitive. It usually costs about twice as much as Silk. I save this for special treats.
I have tried making my own yogurt with Silk, but I can't really see that it's worth the effort on a regular basis. Maybe if we had a yogurt maker ...
I get most of my cheeses at Trader Joe's. They tend to have the best prices for goat and sheep cheeses. Here are some of my favorites (and how I use them).
- Basque Shepherd's Cheese (sheep's milk)--this is a nice semi-soft cheese. I use it like cheddar or mozzarella, though it is quite a bit tangier than the latter. My favorite uses for this cheese are baked pasta dishes, pizza, and Pears and Cheese.
- Pecorino Romano (sheep's milk)--this is a hard cheese, wonderful for grating. I substitute this whenever Parmesan is called for in a recipe. The taste is slightly tangier and saltier, but there is little enough difference that when I serve it to others, they don't comment on the flavor.
- Manchego (sheep's milk)--the absolute best on wheat crackers! I'm guessing it's classified as a hard cheese, though it's not as hard as Pecorino Romano. This cheese stands well on it's own, as a cracker topping, with fruit, or in sandwiches.
I'm not sure I've had any success melting it, though.Correction: Manchego melts beautifully. I just had it in an omelet a few weeks ago and it was fabulous.
- Chèvre, also called Goat Cheese (goat's milk)--I use this soft cheese in place of cream cheese. It is slightly tangier and a little stiffer (sometimes I thin it slightly with milk) but generally it holds up to anything from cheesecake to bagels to blintzes. I also use this for stuffed pasta dishes, such as manicotti or lasagna. It is definitely tangier than ricotta, but if you're using a spicy tomato sauce, the difference is negligible. I rarely use fresh goat cheese as a crumbled topping to salads, but it works well for that, too.
- Goat Cheddar (goat's milk)--I've been going back and forth on this one. Depending on the shopping trip, I seem to get nice mild cheddar or very strong goat-y cheddar, even within the same brand. The first is yummy, and a perfect substitute for cow's milk cheddar. Unfortunately, the second is a bit overpowering. I'm not sure what makes the difference.
- There is only one vegetable-based cheese I've tried that I can recommend: Tofutti® Better than Cream Cheese. I don't like it as well as Chèvre, but for a bean product, it does pretty well. I had the best luck using it for the baked pasta dishes. As with goat cheese, it is a bit tangier than cream cheese, but not dramatically so. If you like tofu and it is a regular part of your diet, you probably would have no problem using the Tofutti on bagels or anywhere else you might otherwise use cream cheese. I found it a bit too strongly flavored of bean for those purposes.
Because I have problems with the whey (protein), I am able to eat real whipping cream and butter made from cow's milk, since they don't contain enough protein to cause me problems. I have learned, however, that there are several brands of cream that are called "heavy" but contain milk proteins. It's just a matter of learning to read labels with care.
Generally, when a recipe calls for half-and-half, I simply substitute half whipping cream, half soymilk.
I have also evaporated my own milk to use in place of half-and-half (see below).
Evaporated Milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk
For evaporated milk, I generally just use cream, cup for cup, or make my own, starting with 2½ times the amount of evaporated milk called for and boiling it down. I wouldn't recommend evaporating soymilk for sweet recipes, however, as the soy flavor becomes concentrated as it evaporates. One of the nut milks or perhaps an oat milk would work better for most desserts.
Sweetened condensed milk could probably be made the same way, just add sugar (1½ times the amount milk called for in the recipe) while you're evaporating. I've never tried this through. If you have, please let me know you're results. I have substituted coconut milk in a few recipes, but my success has been somewhat varied.