What Is Vegan Cheese?
And can you use it in recipes that call for dairy cheese?
We're trying so hard to follow a plant-based diet. We know it's better for us and the planet but what do we do about cheese? We love it melted and gooey in grilled cheese, creamily spread on a bagel, and it's not like we could make our go-to family weeknight dinner mac and cheese without the cheese. Or could we? Enter vegan cheese.
Don't stop reading. Plant-based cheeses have gotten so much better than the plasticky versions of years past. Promise. Vegan cheeses can now be just as tasty as their dairy-based counterparts, pretty enough to display on a cheese plate, and they've become easier to find. Here's what you need to know about buying, eating, and cooking with vegan cheese.
What Is Vegan Cheese?
Simply put, vegan cheese is cheese made without animal products, meaning there's no actual dairy in it. So, what is vegan cheese made of? The simplest answer is all sorts of things. For instance, Spero Foods Cream Cheese makes their vegan cream cheese from sunflower seeds. Most vegan cheeses are made from plant-based milks, seeds like sesame or sunflower, and nuts.
When Michael Schwarz, founder of Treeline, wanted to create a plant-based cheese that tasted just as good as the European cheeses he grew up eating before becoming vegan, he turned to raw cashews, lime juice, live cultures, and sea salt. It's also possible to find vegan cheeses made from vegetables like potatoes, coconut oil, and even tapioca flour.
Miyoko's Creamery, known for its vegan butter and cheeses, makes its artisan cheese wheels, mozzarella, roadhouse cheeses, and cream cheese from cultured cashews. The company launched its first-ever nut-free cheeses made from cultured legumes, a cheddar and pepper jack, this past spring.
How Cheese-Like Is It?
While many kinds of vegan cheeses have tangy, savory cheese-like flavor, don't expect it to be the same as your favorite dairy cheese. "I often like to help people understand that vegan cheese is not going to be exact replicas," said Michaela Grob, owner and manager of vegan cheese shop, Riverdel Cheese in Brooklyn. "Very satisfying and delicious, but it's not a replica."
And just as there is a difference between cheese made from goat's milk to cheese made with cow's milk, the taste and texture of vegan cheeses vary based on the ingredients and the production style. You may want to try a few different options to see which you like best.
How to Give Vegan Cheese a Chance
Grob suggests vegan cheese newbies start shopping by first thinking about what they like about cheese. "If you like creamy and rich, look for some creamy and rich ones," she said. While there are plenty of vegan cheeses that come already sliced and work on sandwiches, many also work well as the start on cheese boards with fruits and crackers. And don't be afraid to try cooking with them. "One thing to remember is that some vegan cheese, especially the pre-cut and shredded ones, may have a higher melting point," Grob said. "If you're making a grilled cheese sandwich, for example, give it a little more time and a little lower temperature to start with so the cheese can melt before the bread gets too crispy."