Dairy free cheese may sound like a contradiction in terms. And vegans of a certain age will remember when it was hard to find a good plant based cheese that tastes and cooks like the real thing. But as more people embrace plant based living, the market is rising to the challenge.
Today there are vegan versions of many of people’s favorite cheeses, from mature cheddar to smoked gouda to sandwich slices, cheese shreds, and more. Which are the best vegan cheeses? Here are some that we think are pretty neat.
Vegan Cheese: If it’s Not Dairy, What Is It?
Real cheese is made from milk and rennet. Rennet causes the casein (milk protein) in the milk to coagulate, turning the milk into a solid. Neither milk nor animal rennet is vegan (though microbial rennet is). So how can you make cheese without its two main ingredients?
Vegan cheeses can be made from a variety of plant based sources, from vegetable oils to nuts, to soy, and even pea protein.
Plant proteins don’t coagulate like casein. Instead, many vegan cheese alternatives are fermented then combined with plant based thickening agents.
Some non dairy cheese is ripened, and individual products have different flavors and textures, but this is the nuts and bolts of it.
Who Makes the Best Tasting Vegan Cheese?
Taste is a matter of, well, taste. And there are a lot of different kinds of cheese!
But some non dairy cheeses are better than others. What’s the best plant based cheese for your needs? Here are a few of our picks.
Best Vegan Cheese Slices
There’s nothing like a sandwich slice for convenience and attractiveness. Some of the original cheese slices were technically vegan, being made from vegetable oil and water. But vegan food has come far from those early days, and so has the humble pre-sliced cheese.
Violife Plant Based Cheese Singles have a base of coconut oil and plant based starch. They’re reasonably low in calories and saturated fat, and are certified both vegan and Kosher. They’re also dairy free, gluten free, and soy free.
Violife Plant Based Cheese Singles come in several flavors, including cheddar, mature cheddar, and smoked provolone.
If you’re looking for the perfect vegan square slice for your grilled cheese sandwich, this could be it.
Best Vegan Mozzarella (Fresh)
A proper vegan mozzarella cheese is the holy grail for a lot of people. While cheese shreds abound, finding a vegan version of fresh mozzarella has eluded us. But no more. For that perfect vegan caprese, consider Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Mozzarella Cheese.
Miyoko’s Creamery is one of the first names in dairy free cheese, vegan cream cheese, and butter. It’s no wonder that they produce what many consider to be the best vegan mozzarella.
This is cashew cheese. The main ingredients are organic cashew milk, organic coconut oil, and tapioca starch. Nutritionally, it compares very favorably to dairy mozzarella. It’s lower in both calories and saturated fat. It’s also certified vegan, Kosher, non-GMO, gluten free, soy free, and palm oil free.
If you’re looking for a flavorful, high end vegan cheese for your vegan cheese board, this could be a good one.
Best Vegan Cheese for Pizza
Fresh mozzarella is excellent, and it’s excellent on pizza. However, when most of us think about pizza cheese, we’re thinking about shredded cheese.
Violife’s Just Like Mozzarella Shreds are a coconut oil based alternative to dairy cheese shreds. Like all Violife products, these shreds are certified both vegan and Kosher. They’re also dairy free, gluten free, and soy free.
Violife’s shreds also melt better than a lot of vegan cheeses. Is this the best vegan cheese for pizza? Why not host a pizza party for your vegan friends and decide for yourself? (P.S. it works great in a grilled cheese, too!)
Best Vegan Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is a firm, wet, salty cheese that makes a salad really pop. Does someone make a vegan version? Violife does.
Violife’s Greek Style Feta Block is a vegan cheese with great taste and texture. Like all Violife products, it’s made from coconut oil. This feta is certified vegan and Kosher, and is dairy free, gluten free, and soy free.
Is this the best vegan feta cheese for your salad? Quite possibly!
Best Vegan Cheddar Cheese
For some, there’s nothing like the classic taste of cheddar, whether on a grilled cheese sandwich or on its own. And we all know that cheddar cheese flavor is more than just salt and coloring.
Violife’s Mature Cheddar Slices are a vegan, Kosher, dairy free, gluten free, soy free cheese alternative. This non dairy cheese is made from coconut oil, with potato and corn starches for binding.
Is this the vegan cheddar cheese your sandwich has been waiting for? Why not try it and find out?
Best Shredded Vegan Cheese
Shredded cheese is a huge time saver, and it’s so, so useful. And a great vegan shredded cheese is a beautiful thing.
Violife’s Colby Jack Shreds bring that classic Colby Jack flavor to your roux, pizza, sandwiches, salads, pasta, and more. It has a fabulous texture as is, but also melts well. If that’s not enough, it’s vegan, Kosher, dairy free, gluten free, and soy free, too.
Best Vegan Cheese for Melting
In the early days, one of the biggest complaints about dairy free cheeses were how they didn’t melt like real cheese. Fortunately, manufacturers have made headway in this area.
Whole Foods Markets 365 house brand provides exceptional quality at house brand prices. It’s easy to find online and in stores, too. Their 365 Everyday Value Vegan Cheddar Slices knock it out of the park.
This is another coconut oil based cheese. It melts great on your sandwich or anywhere else you might think to put it. And it’s certified vegan, Kosher, dairy free, and GMO free.
Best Vegan Parmesan Cheese
A great Parm can be a tricky thing, even when you don’t factor in the complexity of finding a vegan one. The combination of flavor and proper texture can be tricky to achieve.
Follow Your Heart’s shredded vegan Parmesean walks a tight line. People seeking to avoid coconut based cheese will be happy. This vegan Parm is made from Rainforest Alliance Certified palm fruit oil. A combination of miso, nutritional yeast, and other flavorings give it the pungency we expect from a parmesean.
This product is certifed non-GMO, Kosher, and soy free, too.
Best Vegan Cream Cheese
Is cream cheese really a cheese? Of course it is! And if you want to explore the topic in depth, check out our roundup of the best vegan cream cheese brands!
In the meantime, check this out.
Kite Hill Cream Cheese is an almond milk based soft French style cheese. In addition to a very favorable nutritional profile, Kite Hill’s product contains live cheese cultures, which is great news when it comes to flavor.
And if that’s not enough, this cheese is soy free, gluten free, Kosher, GMO free, and has less than a single gram of sugar per serving.
Best Vegan Nacho Cheese
One of the hardest things for some vegans to give up was ooey, gooey nacho cheese. Well, if that sounds like you, then rejoice. Vegan Valley has produced a non dairy nacho cheese for your dipping pleasure.
Vegan Valley’s Nacho Cheez is a cashew based product. It’s flavored with pimentos, garlic, and a host of spices. It’s quite decent in terms of fat and calories, and has a nice balance of protein, too.
Vegan Valley’s Nacho Cheez is vegan, soy free, gluten free, non-GMO, and shelf stable to boot. Melt it onto nachos, pretzels, and more.
Best Cheese Powder for Vegans
In the vegan and health food communities, nutritional yeast, affectionately called “nooch,” is a powerful source of both nutrition and flavor. It’s naturally high in B vitamins, and has a nutty, salty taste.
Nooch It! cheese powder is made from nooch and powdered fair trade cashews. You can sprinkle it over salads for a burst of flavor, or use it in place of grated Parmesean on pasta, garlic bread, and more. Hemp seeds give this cheesy topping a nice hit of protein, too.
Nooch It! is GMO free, soy free, gluten free, organic, and vegan. And if you’re worried about human rights abuses in the cashew production industry, Nooch It! Is certified fair trade, too.
Vegan Cheese FAQs
Is there anything more to know about vegan cheeses? Of course there is!
What is Vegan Cheese Made From?
Different vegan cheese brands use different ingredients to make their vegan cheeses.
Many commercial brands use coconut oil as the basis for their vegan cheeses. Cashews and cashew milk are also popular. Some cream cheese brands use almond milk or coconut cream. You might even find vegan cheese made from fermented tofu. There are also soy cheese options.
Flavorings can include salt, spices, herbs, garlic, and nutritional yeast.
As for stabilizers, the most common ones are potato and tapioca starch.
Is Vegan Cheese Healthy?
The answer is a bit more complicated than a straight thumbs up / thumbs down. Different vegan cheese options have different base ingredients, and the nutritional profile of these ingredients can vary quite a bit from product to product.
First, people with allergies and food sensitivities should avoid products containing those foods. Soy sensitive people should avoid soy cheese, for example. People with nut allergies should buy nut free vegan cheeses. And people who are sensitive to tree nuts should check with their doctor before consuming coconut oil based products.
For people watching their cholesterol, however, there’s good news: most vegan cheese is cholesterol free!
Does Vegan Cheese Taste Like Real Cheese?
Ripened artisanal vegan soft cheese can come very close to the flavor of a pungent dairy cheese. These cheeses are often nut based. Coconut oil based cheeses tend to have a milder flavor.
Different brands and products use different flavorings, from smoke flavor to herbs and garlic, to tomato cayenne, and those can be a matter of taste.
Can You Cook With Vegan Cheese?
You can cook with some vegan cheeses.
Generally speaking, you can cook with the harder variety, including slices and shreds. You might not have as much success, however, cooking with softer artisanal cheeses.
Many vegan cheese products will come with suggested uses. When in doubt, check the packaging for tips.
The Best Vegan Cheese Brands, Sorted
Who knew there was so much to cheese? And who could have thought that there would be a good replacement for dairy cheese in all of its forms and uses?
What’s your favorite vegan cheese? Did it make our list? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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About The Author:
Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.