Flavor and texture are important considerations when substituting dairy products. When working with liquids, you can easily doctor consistency, thickening milk with a little flour or cornstarch to mimic half-and-half, or thinning out Greek yogurt with water to replicate milk. The ingredients below are ordered from thinnest to firmest; if you don’t have the desired substitute for a specific item, move up or down the list.
||Half-and-half or heavy cream thinned with water, evaporated milk, light coconut milk, light cream, oat milk, nut milk, soy milk.
||Thicken milk with a little cornstarch or flour (about 1 tablespoon per cup of liquid) or thin heavy cream with a splash of water.
||For 1 cup heavy cream, use 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup melted butter, or thicken 1 cup milk with 1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour. (Whisk milk into cornstarch or flour little by little.) Coconut milk, coconut cream (beware of increased sweetness), or cream cheese whisked with a little water also work. Note: Alternatives won’t whip into fluffy whipped cream.
||For 1 cup buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or light vinegar, such as white, white wine or champagne) to a measuring cup and add enough milk to reach 1 cup. Alternately, thin one part yogurt, sour cream or other creamy dairy product with one part milk, or thin two parts yogurt or other creamy dairy product with one part water.
||If using butter to conduct heat, as in pan-frying, use olive oil or other fats. (See Oils and Fats below.) For flavor substitutions, like butter in risotto or polenta, a number of creamy options like heavy cream or mascarpone will work.
|Creamy Dairy Products
||Tangy, textural ingredients like crema, crème fraîche, mascarpone, Neufchâtel, Quark, queso fresco, sour cream or yogurt of any variety can be used interchangeably.
There are so many cheeses it’s impossible to cover them all. When substituting, think about its purpose: Will it melt evenly in a pasta sauce, or spread easily on toast? If cooking, swap in one with a similar texture, but if using as an accent, there’s much more flexibility. Here are widely available cheeses (predominantly cow’s milk) broken into broad categories:
|Fresh, unripened cheese (soft and wet)
||Cottage cheese, cream cheese, fromage blanc, ricotta
|Soft-ripened cheese (creamy)
||Brie, Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, taleggio
|Semifirm or semisoft cheeses
||Cheddar, Colby, Edam, fontina, Gouda, Havarti, Jarlsberg, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Muenster, pepper Jack, Port-Salut, Swiss
|Hard aged cheeses
||Asiago, Comté, Gruyère, Manchego, Parmesan, pecorino