Who cares about plant-based cheeses? Real cheese is so ubiquitous in American culture that it’s hard to imagine life without it. When you go to the grocery store, you see dozens of cheese varieties on the shelf: cheddar, gouda, munster, mozzarella, brie, pepperjack, swiss, and more. It’s layered on pizza, stuffed into sandwiches, poured over nachos, and sprinkled on pasta. If you don’t think it’s that common, go to a restaurant and see how many dishes don’t contain cheese. No matter where you are in the world, from Europe to India to South America, cheese is a vital part of most countries’ cuisine.
When you started living the vegan lifestyle, you knew you’d have to give up cheese–it’s made from milk, after all. But now you’re wondering how long you can go without grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese fondue, cheese pizza, and hot nacho cheese sauce. Luckily, you’re not alone. Vegan cheese lovers just like you have developed recipes and commercial products that allow you to enjoy the delicious creaminess of cheese without compromising your vegan lifestyle. You can buy pre-made products at the store or make plant-based cheeses at home using a few simple ingredients. Firm, spreadable, soft, crumbly: it’s all possible in the world of vegan cheese.
Does this sound too good to be true? Here’s a list of some of the most popular types of vegan cheese (link to the wikipedia definition for good measure :)).
1. Tofu Cheese
Tofu is the classic vegan ingredient. The bland flavor and malleable texture make it a popular replacement for meat, cheese, and other products. Tofu is frequently used to make plant-based cream cheese, as well as mild “cheeses” like ricotta and feta. Most commercial brands use fermented tofu, as it gives the product a sharp, flavorful tang. You can make this product at home using a block of tofu that’s been pressed and soaked in marinade. The flavorings you use depend on what kind of cheese you’re aiming for, but nutritional yeast is typically added for that classic savory cheese flavor.
2. Cashew Cheese
Cashew cheese is another popular candidate for plant-based cream cheese, as well as spreads and sauces. Many vegans praise cashew cheese for being the closest to dairy cheese in terms of flavor and texture. A simple cheese to make at home! Throw some cashews in a food processor with a few flavorings, blend it up, and enjoy! You’ll have a delicious plant-based cheese dip that’s much healthier and less fattening than traditional dairy-based products. For more complex recipes, cashew cheese can be used like vegan cheddar and vegan Parmesan. If you’re feeling creative, you can even make vegan brie or Camembert.
3. Almond Cheese
Almond cheese has a distinct nutty flavor that makes it perfect for sharp, flavorful cheeses. Like cashew-based products, almond cheese is frequently used for dips and spreads that are flavored with spices and herbs. This product can be blended into a smooth, creamy spread, or shaped into a block that crumbles just like real feta cheese. You can use this healthy plant-based cheese in just about any recipe that calls for cheese: pasta, pizza, salads, sandwiches, etc. Some people even prefer it over dairy cheese because of its distinct flavor and texture.
4. Soy Cheese
Soy is another classic vegan ingredient. When you think of soy, you probably think of the cartons of soy milk that have graced grocery stores for decades. And just like regular milk, soy milk can be used to create a delicious plant-based cheese. To make soy cheese, you can boil soy milk and add lemon juice to make the milk “curdle.” Stir in the flavorings, strain the product with a cheesecloth, refrigerate the cheese overnight, and enjoy! Soy cheese is typically soft and spreadable, and can be flavored with your favorite combination of herbs and spices. This is a great alternative for cheese lovers with a nut allergy.
5. Rice Flour Cheese
While most vegan cheeses are soft, sometimes you want a healthy plant-based cheese that’s hard and firm. Rice flour cheese is a firm, sturdy product that slices and melts just like real cheese. You can even it grate it into shreds that resemble shredded provolone. Making rice flour cheese at home takes some time and a little experimentation, but when it’s done, you’ll have a flavorful hard cheese that won’t look out of place on a charcuterie board. You can enjoy this product as-is or add some nutritional yeast to give it a more cheesy, savory flavor.
6. Pine Nut Cheese
Tired of all the mild vegan cheeses? Pine nut cheese offers a bold kick of flavor that makes it the perfect alternative to goat cheese or Parmesan. Spread it on a cracker or stuff it in your fresh ravioli. This product is often used in pasta dishes because it’s soft and spreadable like ricotta, but sharp and tangy enough to catch your attention. And as a bonus, it’s full of vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, protein, and iron. Skip the fattening cheeses and enjoy a lighter, healthier spread.
7. Sunflower Seed Cheese
Sunflower seeds might sound like an unlikely ingredient for cheese, but this product is smooth, creamy, and packed with nutritional benefits. This cheese is formed into a mold so it looks just like a wheel of real cheese. You can spread it on bread or slice it into wedges. Sunflower seed cheeses are also one of the cheapest products you can make, as bags of sunflower seeds can be bought at the local grocery store for a dollar or less. Add some nutritional yeast or miso paste for flavor, and you’ve got a savory cheese that doesn’t taste nutty or grainy.
8. Coconut Milk Cheese
If you don’t mind a product that’s a little more fattening, coconut milk has a similar fat content to dairy milk, making coconut milk cheese a rich, creamy, delicious cheese alternative. You can use coconut milk to make just about every cheese variety, including cheddar, Gouda, and provolone. You can also use coconut milk to create a rich sauce that’s perfect for nachos and macaroni and cheese. Experiment with different spices and flavorings to make a healthy cheese substitute that’s all your own!
So many vegan cheeses to choose from. Hopefully we gave you some more to think about and to try. If you liked this post make sure to check out our post about vegan milk options or even our Daiya Deluxe Cheezy Mac Review