“I think I could be a vegan… but I could never give up cheese,” says the skeptic. You’ve probably heard someone say this before, and on some level, you understand. Unctuous, bold, herbaceous, and pungent, a good hunk of cheese really is bliss. Sure, vegan cheese exists, but it’s always had a bad reputation, known to be plasticky, void of flavour, and rubbery in all the worst ways.
Luckily, there are a number of new vegan cheese brands that will have even the most enthusiastic cheese aficionado fooled. Made with ingenious plant-based ingredients, vegan cheeses not only have the right texture, but are also delicious.
So what is vegan cheese anyway? Here’s everything you need to know about vegan cheese.
What is Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese is exactly what it sounds like: cheese that’s vegan-friendly. They’re fully animal-free, made from vegetable proteins like soy, nuts, and oils. Vegan cheeses can also be made from tapioca, agar, arrowroot, and peas. Though some vegan cheeses are made from minimally processed foods, some may include thickeners and starches like xanthan gum and carrageenan.
Tree Nut and Seed Vegan Cheeses
Most homemade vegan cheese is made from raw nuts and seeds as they’re the easiest variety to make, but they’re also available at grocery stores. Nuts and seeds are soaked in water to soften, then blended and fermented. Fun fact: the same types of bacteria used to make dairy cheese is used to make vegan cheese.
Some of the most popular nuts and seeds used for vegan cheeses include cashews, almonds, pecans, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and macadamia nuts.
Needless to say, this type of vegan cheese is not safe for those with nut and/or seed allergies.
“Soy” is almost synonymous to “vegan,” as it’s used in many plant-based/vegan products. So, it’s no surprise that soy is one of the most popular vegan cheese ingredients. Soy is one of the most popular ingredients used in the bigger brands.
Note that for those who are looking to eat clean, soy-based cheese usually also features vegetable oils, gums, and even casein—a milk protein, which would make the cheese not vegan—to help it better mimic the taste and texture of dairy cheese.
If you love coconut, then you would love coconut-based vegan cheese. Due to its high fat content, coconut yields a luscious, creamy vegan cheese. But because it can be so soft and fluid, it usually needs some sort of thickener like cornstarch, carrageenan, agar agar or tapioca starch to help make it closer to the texture of dairy cheese.
Keep in mind, though, that coconut is quite a strong flavour, and it will be one of the more prominent notes in your final product.
Finally, something to do with that cloudy liquid that’s in canned chickpeas! In addition to being a great egg white replacer for things like meringue, aquafaba is now being used for vegan cheese. Aquafaba-based vegan cheeses actually melt when heated, though it does usually require binding ingredients, and are often made with coconut cream, cashews, or oil.
Flour, because of its starchy nature, is used to make vegan cheese. Tapioca, potato, all-purpose, and arrowroot flours are some of the most popular ones used, and flour-based vegan cheeses are usually the saucier types, like queso or cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese. Of course, flour itself can’t be made into cheese; other ingredients, like cashews, soy milk, almond milk, beans, or coconut are often added to them.
This is likely the least popular ingredient for vegan cheeses, but some do use root vegetables as a base. Like flour, vegan cheese that’s made with root vegetables yields a soft, creamy, smooth consistency.
Does Vegan Cheese Taste Good?
Contrary to popular belief, vegan cheese can taste good! But of course, just like anything else, not all products are made equally. Some of the classic vegan cheese brands that we know and have learned to dislike have come a long way, and they’ve developed delectable formulas for every cheese, from queso to ricotta. The non-dairy cheese that once tasted—to put it gently—less than appealing have had their revamped recipes, making them far more palatable.
When it comes to homemade cheese, you have greater control of what you put into your vegan cheese, meaning you can season it however you’d like. Fan of vegan cheese that has a bit of zing? Add some lemon zest and dried cranberries. For something a little more savoury? We love adding nooch! Making vegan cheese at home gives you the ability to ensure that what you make tastes exactly how you want it to, and you can avoid additives, too.
Because of the additives that exist in many vegan cheeses that are available at grocery stores, there are definitely some vegan cheeses that are not that healthy. Some are highly processed, and not a great option for those who prefer to eat clean. But as with all foods, there are some vegan cheeses that use organic, high quality ingredients, too, which tend to be healthier than the highly processed variety.
How Do I Make Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese is much easier to make than you might think! Soft cheeses, in particular, are a cinch to make, and below are two of our favourite recipes: one for a velvety, saucy cheese sauce that’s perfect for nachos, and one that’s perfect for your next cheese board.
Vegan Cheese Sauce
From Love and Lemons
¾ cup peeled and diced Yukon gold potato
¾ cup peeled and diced sweet potato
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup raw cashews
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup water
From The Hidden Veggies
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk full fat
1/2 cup hot water
2 tablespoons agar agar powder
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons garlic powder
Where Can I Buy Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese can be purchased at most major grocery stores these days, including Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Whole Foods, Superstore, No Frills, and Buy Low. Shops that specialize in plant-based foods will usually carry vegan cheeses as well. Nowadays, there are even stores that specialize in high quality vegan cheeses. Blue Heron Cheese is a great spot in the city that offers vegan cheeses perfectly for any cheese platter.
We at Planted Meals often feature vegan cheeses that are made in-house, using the best ingredients only. Our menu features house-made ricotta, almond parmesan, and other mouthwatering vegan cheeses. Explore Planted Meals’ menu in full here.
Just because you’re vegan, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some cheese. Have you made vegan cheese before? Are you a fan? Let us know in the comments below!