I decided to update this list in the wake of recent news that Daiya was purchased by a pharma company that conducts animal testing. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments and please remember to support small/local, and vegan-owned cheese brands whenever possible because the more acquisitions like this that happen the harder it is for them to compete!
Whether you’re vegan, allergic to dairy, lactose intolerant, or just looking for a healthier alternative to dairy cheese you’re living in a magical time for tasty alternatives. (Also, if you’re thinking to yourself “why would anyone NOT eat dairy cheese? This is why.) Also, despite the fact that most major grocery chains now carry at least a few vegan cheese options, there are still a lot of them that have limited distribution. So definitely check out online shops like Vegan Essentials that can ship perishable items anywhere.
One word of advice to those of you who are new to the vegan cheese world – you might need to kiss some frogs. Think about how long Chicago and New York have been waring about pizza, and each city thinks they’re right. But the truth is, your taste in pizza is totally subjective and the same is true for vegan cheese. You’re probably going to need to try a few flavors and brands before you find your true love, so don’t be discouraged by a couple of bad experiences. Another piece of advice for those trying to kick their dairy cheese habit – don’t be surprised if the cravings and withdrawals come out in full force. There is evidence that the protein in dairy cheese is mildly addictive, and it might take you some time to stop craving it, even if you find alternatives you enjoy. Just keep in mind why you’re making the switch and after a few weeks you won’t miss it at all.
Here are my favorite vegan cheeses that you can buy in stores or make yourself, in no particular order:
- Miyoko’s Kitchen – Miyoko Schinner is the unequivocal queen of vegan cheese. Her book Artisan Vegan Cheese is one of my most prized possessions, but more on that later. Tons retail locations including Target and Trader Joe’s carry Miyoko’s Creamery products so they’re pretty easy to get a hold of. You can also order them online.
- DIY Butternut Squash Queso – Inventive vegans have been finding ways to blend veggies and nuts together to make creamy, unctuous cheeses for years. This recipe from Crave, Eat, Heal: Plant-based, Whole-food Recipes to Satisfy Every Appetite blends cheesy heavy hitters like cashews, nutritional yeast, miso paste and roasted butternut squash to make a flavorful dip suitable for any chip or veggie.
- Follow Your Heart – When I said “in no particular order” I meant it, because despite being #3 Follow Your Heart is actually my favorite store-bought cheese right now. I use the Provolone slices in deep-dish pizza, and the American slices are so good, Teno’s friends eat them in grilled cheeses at sleepovers and have no idea they’re eating vegan cheese. The shreds make really great pizzas and tacos, too! Plus, FYH is family-owned, and an OG in the vegan food world so you can feel good buying their products and knowing that their ethics line up with your own.
- DIY Italian Grandma Cheeses – My grandma Sharon Rigazio is dedicated to the art of spaghetti. Her sauce is famous not just in our own family, but among all her friends and neighbors. My gram lent her name to one of my favorite recipes from my book – Spaghetti Cake with Grandma Sharon’s Hater-Proof Sauce. The recipe calls for Cashew Ricotta and Not Parm, two Italian cheese staples that are super cheap and easy to make. Now hurry up and eat, my grandma thinks you look too thin.
- Nooch – Nutritional yeast is one of the more polarizing ingredients in vegan cooking. Either you love it so much your pee is permanently fluorescent, or the smell of it makes your nose crinkle. I personally love it, and use it to make a classic orange cheese sauce for mac n’ cheese, and to make a zesty nacho cheese sauce for nachos and of course, Taco Lasagna. It’s cheapest when purchased from bulk bins! Nut allergy? Never fear, you can swap sunflower seeds or tahini for cashews in most vegan cheese recipes.
- Avocado – C’mon, don’t look at me like that. Avocado is a legitimately awesome substitute for soft, creamy cheeses in so many recipes. You can serve it with hot pasta, you can use it in caprice salads and bruschetta, you can put some salt on it and eat it with a spoon. Rich, creamy, and full of “good fats” that help keep you full. Avocados, Nature’s Cheese™. (Not actually trademarked to my knowledge.)
- Chicago-based Cheeze & Thank You has quickly become my favorite “fancy” cheese brand and she even named a Chicago hot dog cheese after me! In the Chicago area you can find her cheese at Whole Foods, but you can also order them from Vegan Essentials to be shipped anywhere.
OK, so it was really hard for me not to blather on and on about some of my other favorite cheesy products up there, so I’m going to do it here:
- Cheesecake – There are currently two store-bought options that hit the spot for me. Eli’s Vegan Cheesecake (yeah, I almost died when I saw it, too) is actually really good. Aldi also has a vegan cheesecake under their brand Earth Grown. If you have a Whole Foods near you you’ll probably find more in the freezer section, including one from Daiya that is pretty good, despite me not being a fan of their cheeses. If you’d like to make your own, try this Strawberry Mint Cacao Cheesecake or my Chick-O-Cheesecake.
- Mac n’ Cheese – I like to make my own, but Teno is obsessed with Upton’s Naturals Cheesy Mac because it’s ready in just a minute or two. There are tons of store bought options these days and everyone has their own preferences, but I think the Upton’s one is the closest to homemade.
- Cream Cheese – I was at a real loss here as most of them just taste like “white,” or worse, like plastic. Then I found Kite Hill cream cheese. It’s expensive, but if you’re an addict, well worth it. Oh, and you can make your own, too.
- Pizza – Some good DIY pizza cheese options include any of the recipes in Julie Hasson’s Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes and Miyoko’s meltable cheese. But there are tons of great store bought options these days, too, including full-on frozen vegan pizzas from Amy’s and Daiya. If you aren’t opposed to mail-ordering your pizzas I highly recommend the Blackbird Pizzas. You can also get shreds from lots of brands including Follow Your Heart and So Delicious.
Don’t see your favorite on my list? It’s probably just because I haven’t tried it yet! What are your favorite vegan cheeses and cheesy products? Tell me in the comments!