Technology has been a game changer for vegan meats, yielding burgers and crumbles and sausage patties that are more realistic than ever before. But meat may not be the food that vegan and vegan-leaning eaters need most.
From the majority of people who learn I'm vegan, I hear something to the effect of: “I could give up meat, but I couldn't live without cheese.” I can relate. It’s what kept me from becoming vegan until I finally did, after years of vegetarianism, about thirteen years ago.
Until that point, I hadn’t missed meat very much. I was satisfied with the vegan meat replacements that existed (though I didn’t anticipate how much better they’d be now). Living without gooey slices of pizza, stretchy grilled cheese sandwiches, and Greek salad, on the other hand? That was another story.
Vegan cheese options existed, but the texture was wrong. The rice milk cheese I could find at a local health food store was the texture of rubber. Soy cheese was a little better, but still plastic-like. More importantly, the cheeses didn’t melt. When I put them onto a pizza, they’d become warm but unaltered in shape. They tasted OK in a grilled cheese—after all, their flavor wasn’t very different from that of processed dairy cheeses. But there was no gooeyness, no stretch.
And this—the ability to melt—is what’s new and exciting about vegan cheese today.
In the last few years, a few vegan cheese makers have figured out how to make shreds and slices that really do melt. This means totally vegan (and totally nostalgia-inducing) baked ziti, lasagna, quesadillas, enchiladas, and, of course, pizza.
At the same time, types of commercial vegan cheese that were already good have only gotten better and more varied in flavor. I’m thinking specifically of cashew cheese, almond milk cheese, and other vegan nut-based cheeses. I’ve long been a fan of making cashew cheese at home, but it’s nice to have a store-bought option, especially since the commercial versions undergo more fermentation than I have the patience for. So if you’re looking for non-dairy cheese that doesn’t require a DIY recipe, you’ve got options. Below are my favorite vegan cheeses for melting, spreading, sandwich filling, and more.
For your pizzas, your nachos, your casseroles, and your lasagnas, I have two recommendations.
Violife Shreds (Cheddar, Colby Jack & Mozzarella)
The first is shredded cheese from the Violife brand. Violife shreds come in cheddar, Colby Jack, and mozzarella varieties. I haven’t sampled the Colby Jack yet, though to be honest, I don’t taste a huge flavor difference between cheddar and mozzarella. The mozzarella shreds are a little milder.
What makes these shreds so special is they do melt, not only when they’re sandwiched between hot layers (as in a grilled cheese), but also when they’re put on a pizza or flatbread and popped into the oven. To have a store-bought vegan cheese that does what cheese is supposed to do texturally is opening up new recipes for me, from baked ziti to homemade cheese sauce.
Moocho Foods Dairy-Free Shreds (Cheddar, Mozzarella & Fiesta Blend)
Just this year, the Tofurky company, maker of the famous vegan holiday roast, dipped its toes into plant-based cheese. Its spinoff brand, Moocho, has quickly become a favorite in my home. And it, too, offers meltiness as a selling point.
What I like most about the Moocho cheeses is that they’re flavor-forward. A lot of vegan cheeses taste cheese-like in a nondescript way. But the Moocho flavors are distinctive. The brand’s mozzarella is mild and creamy, with only the slightest tartness. The cheddar is tangy and salty, my new go-to for baked potato skins.
Daiya Plant-Based Cheese Shreds (Cheddar, Mozzarella & Pepper Jack)
A roundup of vegan shreds wouldn’t be complete without special mention of Daiya. Daiya was established in 2008, and its shreds, which promised the ability to melt, were one of the first upgrades to vegan cheese that I remember. Daiya mozzarella shreds are still often to be found on the vegan option at mainstream pizzarias, and they’re free of common allergens, including tree nuts, which make them accessible within a wide variety of eating styles.
To be honest, I was never crazy about Daiya. I found it a little salty and oily, and my consumption of it was usually limited to dining out. But I appreciate that Daiya led the way in the meltable vegan cheese movement, and I’ve learned recently that the brand has reformulated a number of its cheeses. I can’t wait to try them—along with the company’s revamped, frozen pizzas.
When a neat slice is in order, there are plenty of vegan options.
Follow Your Heart Slices (American, Smoked Gouda, Medium Cheddar, Provolone, Pepper Jack, Mozzarella & Garden Herb styles )
My number one choice for a classic grilled cheese or topping burgers are American cheese slices from the Follow Your Heart brand. When I’m in the mood for something different, I make a tomato grilled cheese with the brand’s salty smoked gouda. The slices melt well enough to work even in Toastabags.
Field Roast Chao Slices (Creamy Original, Tomato Cayenne & Garden Herb)
If I want a cheese slice to stack in a fully loaded sandwich, I’ll reach for Chao slices. These come in spicy, smoked, and original flavors. They’re not the meltiest of vegan cheeses, but they’re some of the tastiest. They’re made from fermented tofu, which I think gives them a rich, buttery flavor. I love the original slices in a Tofurky club.
Parmela Creamery Slices (Sharp Cheddar, Mild Cheddar, Creamy American & Fiery Jack)
If sharp cheddar is your thing, then I recommend plant-based sharp cheddar slices from Parmela creamery. These are slowly fermented, and they’re sharp indeed—sharp enough to be easily discernible from the brand’s mild cheddar slices.
Parmela slices are thicker and more substantial than some of their competitors. I love their sturdiness; they’ve got enough heft to be the main event in a sandwich. But my favorite way to eat them is with apple slices and onion jam on toasted sourdough.
Miyoko’s Creamery Organic Cashew Milk Mozzarella
If you prefer to slice your own cheese, then Miyoko’s Creamy cultured vegan mozz is worth a try. Inspired by mozzarella di buffala, it’s great on homemade pizza margherita. My favorite use for it is in a vegan caprese salad with ripe tomatoes and good, syrupy balsamic. The texture is semi-elastic, just as it should be, and the flavor is buttery.
Plant-based spreadable cheeses—cream cheese and soft cheese for crackers—have existed for over a decade. But they, too, are improving in taste and expanding in variety.
Monty’s Cultured Cashew Cream Cheese (Original, Everything & Scallion)
Right now, I can’t get enough of the fermented cashew cream cheese from Monty’s. Monty’s original cream cheese (there are also everything bagel and scallion flavors) is the closest thing I’ve tasted to the cashew cream cheese that I make at home in my food processor.
Monty’s cheeses are cultured in small batches, and the fermentation shines through. Unlike my homemade cheese, these are pleasantly, but assertively, tangy.
Kite Hill Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Alternative
Another favorite vegan cream cheese is Kite Hill’s. Kite Hill cream cheese has a smoother consistency than Monty’s—more like conventional cream cheese. I love it on bagels and also for sweet applications, like a cream cheese frosting for carrot cake.
Treeline Cheeses Soft French-Style Cheese (Herb Garlic, Scallion, Chipotle-Serrano & Sea Salt & Pepper)
If you’ve got crackers that are crying out for a topping, give Treeline Cheeses a try. I think of these cheeses as being similar to the Boursin cheese that my grandmother always used to keep at her apartment. They’re spreadable—lately I like to layer them on ciabatta, then top them with leftover roasted vegetables—but they’re also firm enough to be crumbled onto a salad. The green peppercorn flavor is my favorite, and it packs a small, spicy punch.
Violife’s Just Like Feta
I ate a lot of feta before I became vegan (I’m Greek). So it’s no surprise that my most exciting cheese discovery of the past year was Violife’s Just Like Feta.
This plant-based feta comes in a briney block. It can be crumbled by hand (onto salad, grain bowls, or pasta) or sliced. It’s perfect for making the type of Greek salad that I grew up with, in which the feta arrived in thick, crumbly rectangles on top of dressed vegetables.
Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Feta Crumbles
Follow Your Heart has also released new, dairy-free feta crumbles. Like Violife’s feta, it’s salty and a little tart. Both products are made with a vegetable oil and potato starch base, but the Follow Your Heart feta is pre-crumbled, which makes it convenient for quick assembly meals. Lately I’ve been using it in tacos, as a stand-in for coquita cheese.
Have I found a perfect vegan answer to parmesan cheese? No. But I’ve found some products that are evocative of parmesan. And they’re tasty in their own right.
Parma Vegan Parmesan (Original, Chipotle Cayenne, Garlicky Green & Better than Bacon)
My favorite vegan parm is Parma, which comes in an original, a spicy, and a garlicky flavor. This isn’t parmesan so much as a crumbly mixture of nutritional yeast (which tastes cheesy) salt, and ground up sunflower seeds. It’s the kind of condiment that I could make easily at home, but it’s a relief to have the option of purchasing it when things are busy.
Violife Just Like Parmesan
For something that looks more like traditional parmesan, Violife makes a firm, salty, triangular block. Violife parmesan is easy to grate on a cheese grater, and while it doesn’t taste quite like parmesan (what does?) it’s similarly salty and umami-rich. I love topping a bowl of plant-based bolognese with the shavings.
And what about the occasional cheese plate?
Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Cheese Wheels (multiple flavors)
This is where fancy vegan cheeses—usually nut-based—come in handy. Miyoko’s Artisan Vegan Cheese Wheels, which are made with a cashew milk base, are my favorites. They’ve got a creamy interior and authentic, exterior rinds. The winter truffle flavor tastes rich and intense, while the double cream chive is lighter. I like them both.
Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Cheddar Cheese Block
I also have fond memories of slicing cheddar from a block for snacking with crackers. So Miyoko’s cultured farmhouse cheddar chunk is a new favorite. It’s good with wheat crackers or toast, lovely with some apple or pear slices to balance its sharpness. This cheese is oat milk based, a departure from Miyoko’s other offerings.
I haven’t yet tasted Rind cheeses, but I’ve spent plenty of time salivating over them on Instagram. Made in New York City, they’re sold at such upscale eateries as ABCV. The brand’s flavors include camembert, bleu, and porcini, and they certainly look authentic—right down to interior marbling in the bleu cheese.
Choosing a non-dairy cheese is a matter of access, cost, and nutritional priorities. I’m lucky to live in a city where many options are available at natural grocers. And I don’t have allergies to tree nuts, which makes some of the less processed, artisanal vegan cheeses an option for me.
The good news is that more non-dairy cheeses are finding their way to mainstream grocery stores. Daiya is now available at more than 25,000 grocery stores across the continental US and internationally. I’ve had good luck finding Follow Your Heart cheese slices in major grocery stores, too. And Miyoko’s now offers an online shop for those who don’t mind shipping cost as a way of trying new, cheesy things.
Maybe you’re trying to eat more plant-based with the new year. Maybe you or a family member has a dairy allergy or intolerance. Maybe you’re an adventurous eater who wants to know what vegan cheese could possibly be like.
The answer is that it’s increasingly flavorful, authentic, and satisfying. And it only gets better with each new year. With any luck, you’ll be able to find one of these varieties and melt, slice, or crumble your way to a plant-based recipe that defies your expectations.
The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).Order now