I love cheese! Grilled cheese, cheese pizza, mac n’ cheese, cheese boards… all of it.
I know what you might be thinking: “But Kris, I thought you were vegan. Do vegans eat cheese now?!” Well toots, I’m not talking about just any old cheese. I’m talking about vegan cheese, and that’s what today’s article is all about!
The plant-based food market has taken off over the last couple of years. Vegan alternatives to animal products are popping up at grocery stores and restaurants all over the place. It’s been so exciting to watch this progress. And when it comes to vegan cheese, let me tell you that we’ve come a looooooong way from some of the stuff I tried to stomach back when I first went vegan.
Most vegans would probably agree that cheese is one of the hardest foods to cut when you’re getting started. I regularly hear from folks who say they’d like to try a plant-based diet, but just can’t imagine giving up cheese. People who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy face the same challenge. Luckily, vegan, dairy-free cheeses are easier to find, more varied and much tastier than ever before.
But with more options come more decisions, so navigating the vegan cheese aisle (here’s hoping that one day there WILL be a whole aisle dedicated to it!) might feel like a guessing game. You don’t want to empty your wallet or compromise on taste. I know that nutrition is top of mind for you too, so you might have questions like, “What is vegan cheese made of?” and “Which vegan cheese brands offer the healthiest options?”
Well, whether you need slices for your sandwiches, schmear for your bagels, goodies for a fancy cheese plate or any other variety of vegan cheese, I’ve got your back. My team and I have tried and tested lots of brands over the years, and we want to share that wealth of knowledge with you! So today we’re covering…
- My favorite vegan cheese brands, including info on how they stack up from a health perspective
- Advice for cooking with vegan cheese and the best options for different purposes (like which shreds melt the best on pizza, how to make the perfect vegan grilled cheese and so on)
- And resources for making your own vegan cheese, just in case you want to get creative in the kitchen!
But before we get into all of that goodness, let’s tackle the question that I suspect is on many of your minds…
Is vegan cheese healthy?
The short answer is YES! Plant-based cheese can absolutely be a great addition to a healthy diet. That’s especially true when you compare it to its dairy counterpart. Cheese comes from dairy milk and dairy milk comes from cows (or goats). That milk is specifically designed to nourish baby cows and help them grow, just like human mothers’ milk has everything human babies need. For that reason, the proteins in dairy can be hard for people to digest. Many folks don’t even realize that dairy might be causing their persistent, unexplained digestive discomfort.
Dairy is also often loaded with growth hormones and antibiotics that the factory farming industry uses to churn out as much as they can, as cheaply and quickly as possible. This isn’t true for all dairy products, but it’s the case for many of the options available on grocery store shelves.
I’m not here to convince you to go vegan. My mission is really just to encourage you to eat more plants. So if you replace even some of the dairy cheese you’d usually eat with plant-based alternatives, then I’ll be doing my happy dance!
What is vegan cheese made of?
Critics of vegan alternatives often argue that they’re fake and highly processed. And yes, those products DO exist. But there are plenty of brands out there using wonderful ingredients like nuts, seeds, vegetables, probiotics and more to create vegan cheeses that are just as good (if not better!) than the dairy alternatives. I’ve also noticed more products popping up that are free of common allergens like nuts and soy, so no one has to miss out… phew!
Why eat vegan cheese?
I’ve found that including dairy-free cheese helps make a vegan diet more sustainable. That’s a huge win in my book because I believe that a plant-based diet is one of the healthiest, most compassionate ways to eat. The more satisfying and scrumptious we can make it, the better.
And finally, I’d be remiss not to mention how much healthier vegan cheese is for our planet and furry friends. Many authorities agree that choosing a plant-based diet is the most effective and powerful way an individual can reduce their environmental footprint. And animal agriculture is often inhumane, unsafe and unsanitary—especially when it takes place on factory farms. So every time you choose vegan cheese over dairy, you’re helping to reduce animal suffering. You don’t have to go full vegan to make a difference, just do what you can while keeping this info in mind!
Sometimes vs. Often: Our Crazy Sexy Cheese Categories
I worked with my fabulous nutrition team to put each of the brands I’m sharing into one of two categories: Sometimes or Often. These are our recommendations for how frequently to include them in your diet—emphasis on recommendations! You know yourself best, so ultimately it’s up to you (and your integrative doc) to decide what you eat and how often. You might see certain ingredients that you prefer to avoid and that’s ok! The good news is, there are plenty of options available, so there’s a vegan cheese brand here for everyone.
The vegan cheeses in the Often category include only simple, natural and whole-food ingredients. As far as our Crazy Sexy team is concerned, these options can be regular staples in a healthy plant-based diet. Yum!
The Sometimes category is for plant-based cheeses we also enjoy, but not necessarily on an everyday basis. Their nutritional profile might not be quite as sparkling as the Often options, or they might include certain processed ingredients that some people prefer to limit.
But you can rest assured that this list is free of cheeses that I’d never eat. The options in the Sometimes category are fine in moderation. I wouldn’t share something if it contained ingredients I avoid altogether… and I did exclude some brands for that very reason.
Now that you know how the categories work, let’s sink our teeth into some creamy plant-based treats!
14 Vegan Cheese Brands that Will Make You Want to Ditch Dairy
Kite Hill: Best Vegan Cream Cheese (Often)
You might have seen Kite Hill’s line of almond-based dairy alternatives at your local grocery store. This wonderful brand has continued to expand over the last couple of years, so their yummy yogurts, dips and cheeses have gotten easier to find. Lucky us!
I love Kite Hill because all of their products are gluten- and soy-free, and non-GMO. They also don’t use any artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and sweeteners. You’ll notice xanthan and guar gum in their ingredients lists—both are plant-based and considered a better option for thickening and stabilizing than many other additives.
Why I love it: Kite Hill makes the best vegan cream cheese I’ve ever had. It’s perfectly light and creamy at the same time. My favorite flavor is the chive, but they also offer plain, everything and jalapeño!
Violife: Best for Vegan Grilled Cheese (Sometimes)
This is another vegan cheese brand that has gained popularity in the U.S. over the last couple years. And rightfully so—their slices and shreds melt beautifully, making them perfect for any of your favorite ooey gooey dishes. I also love that Violife is available in other countries around the world… yay for accessibility!
Violife’s products have been certified by the non-GMO project and don’t contain any gluten or soy. They’re also free from preservatives. We categorized them under Sometimes because Violife does use non-GMO modified potato and corn starches, which some people may prefer to limit or avoid. The Just Like Feta block doesn’t contain any modified food starches though, so that one makes it to the Often category!
Why I love it: Violife’s Mature Cheddar and Smoked Provolone Slices make the meltiest, most delicious vegan grilled cheese ever! But they do melt much more slowly than dairy cheeses, so the key is to cook ‘em low and slow. Keep the heat at medium-low or even low, cover your pan and be patient. Just make sure to watch your bread closely and flip it if it’s getting too crispy.
Miyoko’s: Best Artisan Vegan Cheese for Cheese Boards (Often)
Miyoko Schinner is a legend in the vegan world. She was considered an expert on plant-based cheese long before her brand showed up in grocery stores (you may have heard of her cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese). So it goes without saying that I was pretty excited when I heard that she was putting out her own cashew cheeses… and they did not disappoint!
Miyoko’s products are all organic and non-GMO. They’re made with great ingredients like organic rice miso, fermented rosemary, plum and oregano (natural flavor preservation!), and live cultures. These vegan cheeses were made to shine on an appetizer platter. I’d go with the Classic Double Cream Chive and Smoked Farmhouse paired with whole grain crackers, fig jam and olives. Ok, now I’m drooling!
One thing to keep in mind: In my experience, Miyoko’s cheeses are all very tangy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you have an aversion to tangy foods.
Why I love it: Miyoko’s has been teasing nut-free products for a while and it looks like they’re almost here! I’m looking forward to trying the new pepper jack and cheddar options this spring.