We have a confession to make—we looove cheese.
Unfortunately, traditional dairy-based cheeses cause a lot of unnecessary suffering for dairy cows and goats, and they can cause a lot of health complications in humans, too.
That’s why we decided to ditch dairy-based cheeses for the often-misunderstood but oh-so-yummy world of vegan cheeses.
If you’re anything like we were, you’re probably confused about just what vegan cheese is, where you can find it, how you can make it yourself, and if it’s as nasty as some people make it out to be (spoiler: nope).
So we put together this guide for people like you who are considering adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle, even part-time.
This guide will cover:
- How I transitioned from dairy to plant-based cheeses
- What is vegan cheese?
- How does vegan cheese taste?
- What are the best vegan cheese brands?
- Which cheeses are vegan-friendly?
- What is vegan cheese made of?
- Why are so many vegan cheeses made of soy?
- Is vegan cheese healthier than dairy-based cheese?
- Where can I buy vegan cheese?
- What do I need to make my own vegan cheese?
All About Vegan Cheese Podcast Episode
My Story: How I Transitioned from Dairy-Based to Vegan Cheeses
I wasn’t born a vegan. Oh, no. I was very much brought up in a traditional American household (see my vegan story here) with lots and lots of meat, milk, and cheese. Meat, I could do without, to be honest, which made it easy for me to go vegetarian when I was just 8 years old. But milk? And cheese? They were my jam.
So when I picked up a copy of Animal Liberation at a used bookstore in college and learned that the dairy industry was even more horrifying as the meat industry, I was feeling overwhelmed, to say the least. I knew I wanted to stop eating dairy and fairly quickly transitioned to soy and almond milk. But cheese?
How will I live without cheese?
At the time I dumped it on everything—pasta with loads of parmesan, pizza loaded with mozz. There was cheese in my go-to burritos, sandwiches, quesadillas, you name it. Whatever I was eating, it was hardly a complete meal without cheese. This was going to be hard.
And let me tell you, at the time (a decade ago), there weren’t a zillion vegan cheese options like there are today. In fact, there weren’t any in my college town of Cleveland, Ohio. So I went without.
Painful? Surprisingly, not really! I thought it was going to be a huge challenge, a sacrifice I was making for the animals. But truth be told, I quickly acclimated to equally delicious (and far healthier) alternatives.
My go-to? Avocado with salt. Cheese is essentially just fat and salt, so salted avocado (or guacamole) did the trick in my burritos, sandwiches, and beyond. And in place of parmesan one my pasta I would add olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast (nooch), a combo I still turn to often today. Or I’ll just use marinara sauce instead!
Today, you don’t have to ‘give up’ cheese at all!
Luckily, today you don’t have to ‘give up’ cheese to go vegan. There are vegan versions of every style of cheese you can imagine, and new options are coming out all the time. It’s true, some of them are not so great, but others are aaaaaah-mazing! Enjoy the adventure.
So now that we’ve told you how I transitioned (and grew to love!) vegan cheeses, you’ve probably got a few questions about what vegan cheese is best for you, where you can buy it, and more.
Hopefully our Q&A below can answer all of your questions. If you have another question about vegan cheeses, feel free to reach out and we’d be glad to help!
Okay…ready to jump in? Below you’ll find all of your questions about vegan cheese, answered!
What is vegan cheese?
Simply put, vegan cheese is any cheese that isn’t sourced from a lactating animal’s milk, such as from a mother cow or momma goat.
Unlike lactose-free milk, which is still sourced from a cow but with lactose (a kind of sugar) removed, vegan cheese can be made from nuts, seeds, vegetables, or other plant-based sources. However, vegan cheese will never be derived from an animal or its milk.
How does vegan cheese taste?
Whatever you want it to taste like!
While vegan cheese has sort of a bad rap as being bland and bad at melting, we can assure you that for the most part, it’s anything but.
Vegans and vegetarians around the world have veganized pretty much every cheese you can imagine, from savoury cheddars to sharp parmesans, salty fetas to decadent bries and camemberts.
If you’re more of a DIY foodie or just someone who loves experimenting in the kitchen, then you’ll be excited to learn that you can whip up all kinds of vegan cheeses from scratch in your own kitchen. We recommend trying this vegan cheese recipe and picking up a copy of a vegan cheesemaking cookbook (there are actually several of these!). You can also check out our vegan cheese board on Pinterest for inspiration.
Easy Vegan Cheese Recipes:
- Vegan Cheese Log
- Cashew Cream Cheese
- Healthy Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese
- Hummus (it’s surprisingly easy to make and a great budget-friendly alternative to cheese)
Vegan Cheese Cookbooks:
- Artisan Vegan Cheese
- This Cheese Is Nuts!
- Vegan Cheese: Simple Delicious Plant-Based Recipes
- Super-Easy Vegan Cheese Cookbook
If you don’t quite feel ready to make your own vegan cheese or simply don’t have the time or interest to cook (we feel ya), then you’ll want to check out some of the most popular vegan cheese brands out there.
What are the best vegan cheese brands?
If you’re looking for a pre-made vegan cheese that:
- Melts beautifully
- Spreads nicely on your cracker
- Accents a cheese plate
- That’s good for sprinkling
- That’s good for preparing Italian dishes
- Just looks and acts like the dairy-based cheeses you’re used to
…then friend, it sounds like our vegan cheese guide is right up your alley.
Today you can find vegan mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, gourmet cheeses, cheese shreds, cheese slices, cheese blocks, gourmet cheeses, nacho cheese sauce, vegan mac ‘n’ cheese, and beyond. Look out for the following all-vegan cheese brands in stores!
Popular Vegan Cheese Brands:
These are the most popular and most widely available, but there are many, many, many more coming to life both regionally and internationally!
If you’re looking for more vegan cheese goodness, then you’ll love our “Battle of the Vegan Cheddar Cheeses.” We do a live taste-test comparison of four of the most popular vegan cheddar cheese brands out there. Surprisingly, we reached a unanimous decision on the best, but you’ll have to watch the video to find out who won!
Which cheeses are vegan-friendly?
While “dairy-free” and “lactose-free” cheeses can be vegan, beware! They aren’t always.
Some lactose-free cheeses are made from dairy milk, with the lactose sugars simply removed. Others are made from plant-based ingredients like soy, but have some dairy derivatives added in (such as “casein” which is the protein found in mammalian milk).
So…you may come across a cheese labeled “Dairy-Free Soy Cheese” and pick it up with great enthusiasm assuming it’s vegan. But—it may not be! So be sure to always check the ingredient list until you become familiar with which options are good-to-go.
With that disclaimer out of the way, there are tons of vegan cheeses out there, and even many fully-vegan cheese brands (such as those listed above). It truly gets easier, more delicious, and more accessible every day!
What is vegan cheese made of?
It depends on the cheese. Whatever food allergies or restrictions you may have, there’s probably a vegan cheese out there for you, though.
Many store-bought vegan cheeses are made from soy, nuts, or tapioca flour. Nut-based vegan cheeses are arguably the most popular bases for homemade vegan cheeses, with almond- and cashew-based cheeses being quite common.
However, you’re increasingly more likely to find zucchini-, sunflower seed-, and coconut-based vegan cheeses as well.
Wait a second—why are so many vegan cheeses made of nuts and seeds?
Soaked nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, and sunflower seeds blend beautifully to create all sorts of creamy foods. If you blend them with lots of water, you’ll get nut milk. If you blend them with some liquid and flavorful ingredients and spices, you can make dressings and cheesy sauces. And with even less liquid and some fun techniques that you’ll find in vegan cheese recipes all across the web, you can get delicious vegan cheese.
Nuts and seeds naturally contain healthy fats. When blended with salt and flavorings, these wholesome ingredients can beautifully emulate the fattiness and creaminess of dairy cheese.
Why are many vegan cheeses made of soy?
Soy is an amazing base for vegan cheeses and often leads to a final product that tastes the most like dairy cheese.
It surprises many to learn that soybeans are the same as edamame, the green beans you may have had at a Japanese restaurant. These magical little beans have been a healthful and protein-rich staple in many cultures since ancient times.
Today we turn to soybeans to make soymilk, tofu (see how tofu is made), vegan meats, cheeses, and beyond.
And don’t worry, for those who have been confused by rumors in the media, there’s no reason to be afraid of soy. Unless you’re allergic, of course!
Is vegan cheese healthier than dairy-based cheeses?
Yes and no.
While vegan cheeses don’t contain any artery-clogging cholesterol (cholesterol is only found in animal products) and usually have very little saturated fat (often none at all), they can still be high-calorie and high in salt or preservatives, especially if you purchase store-bought vegan cheeses.
If you’re eating a primarily whole foods plant-based diet, a little fat and salt in your cheese is nothing to worry about. It’s important to have balance and healthy fats, friends!
But don’t go crazy. Let’s leave the world where we dump piles of cheese on every meal behind us, shall we?
Where can I buy vegan cheeses?
We’ve noticed more and more chain grocery stores stocking vegan-friendly cheeses in recent years.
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If you can’t find a vegan cheese you like at your local supermarket, we recommend putting in a request to your grocery store! You can also check out Sprouts, Whole Foods, or your local Natural Foods store as they’ll likely have many options.
And… guess what? You can now order gourmet vegan cheese online directly from Miyoko’s, from specialty online shops like Mylk Guys, and even Amazon has some vegan cheese items that they can ship to your doorstep!
What do I need to make my own vegan cheese?
Whatever your skill level and however well your kitchen is equipped, there’s a vegan cheese recipe out there for you.
However, we minimally recommend that anyone interested in a healthy plant-strong diet has the following in their kitchen.
Essential Kitchen Tools:
- A food processor and/or a high-powered blender for grinding nuts and seeds and blending the creamiest cheeses and cheesy sauces.
- A strainer and cheesecloth for draining your vegan cheese
- Nutritional yeast, which is a deactivated yeast with a nutty and cheesy flavor
- Miso paste, which can make your cheese taste more “cheesy”
- Salt and lemon, for saltiness and tartness, respectively
Needless to say, choosing dairy-free is easier today than it ever has been before. No longer does it require sacrifice. Enjoy the adventure, friends!
Additional Dairy-Free Cheese Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Cheeses
- 7 Gourmet Vegan Cheeses You’ll Love
- Battle of the Vegan Cheddar Cheeses (Video)
- Best Boxed Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheeses
- Vegan Cheese Factory Tour (Video)
Need More Help Breaking Free From Dairy Cheese?
Want a little extra help breaking the dairy addiction? We’ve got you! Check out our e-course, The 12-Day Dairy Detox. We’ll hold your hand and show you the way. You’ll be embracing dairy-free-dom in no time!