What to Know About Vegan Cheese

A professional cheesemonger explains how it's made and what it tastes like.

June 23, 2023

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Vegan cashew cheese with dried tomatoes and spices on a white plate, gray background, top view. Alternative dairy-free diet, plant-based food.

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Vegan cashew cheese with dried tomatoes and spices on a white plate, gray background, top view. Alternative dairy-free diet, plant-based food.

Photo by: vaaseenaa/Getty Images

vaaseenaa/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

From specialty grocers to major supermarkets, there are more styles and varieties of vegan cheeses available than ever before. But what is vegan cheese made of? Does it taste the same as dairy cheeses made with milks from cows, goats or sheep? To learn more, we consulted Michaela Grob, founder of Riverdel, an artisanal vegan cheesemonger in New York City.

What Is Vegan Cheese Made Of?

Vegan cheese can be made with a variety of ingredients including soy or tofu, nuts and seeds, grains, coconut, oils or starches. “Many vegan cheeses that we carry are made from nuts—mostly cashews, almonds or macadamia—but we also see more coming to market that are made from hemp or oats," Grob says. "And, of course, there are some that are made from soy, starches and oils. Generally speaking, cheeses that are made from mostly starch and oils melt better and are often the ones that are found in slices or shreds.”

Some ingredients you'll find in many vegan cheeses include:

vegan mozzarella, grated and sliced

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vegan mozzarella, grated and sliced

Photo by: mikhailkhusid/Getty Images

mikhailkhusid/Getty Images

Soy or Tofu. Soy and soy proteins such as tofu are popular base ingredients for vegan cheese.

Nuts and Seeds. Vegan cheesemakers may also use tree nuts and seeds including almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecans, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

Tapioca. Derived from the roots of cassava plants, tapioca is a common thickening agent. In vegan cheeses, tapioca starch and flour help create denser texture, flexibility and meltability.

vegan creamy cheese with cashew nut

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vegan creamy cheese with cashew nut

Photo by: margouillatphotos/Getty Images

margouillatphotos/Getty Images

Coconut. Coconut oil, cream and milk are high in fat, which helps them add richness and creaminess to vegan cheese.

How Is Vegan Cheese Made?

Vegan cheese is made in a similar way to dairy cheese. “A base—nut milk, soy milk, etc.—is fermented using similar bacteria as used for dairy cheeses and then aged," Grob explains. "The one step that is usually not required is curdling the milk and draining out the whey." Vegan cheese made with nuts and seeds are typically fermented with extra probiotic cultures and often have flavorings or nutritional yeast added. Thickening agents such as oils or starches are incorporated in several plant-based cheeses to aid fermentation, improve taste and create similar consistencies to dairy cheeses. The aging process for vegan cheese gives the bacteria time to further break down the plant protein, yielding a more nuanced flavor and texture.

Vegan cheeses can be made in a variety of styles. “Anything from Brie to Parmesan is available these days,” Grob says. Offerings are sold in blocks, shredded, grated or sliced, and as spreadable soft cheeses or cheese dips.

Does Vegan Cheese Taste Like Cheese?

Yes, some vegan cheeses taste like dairy cheese. There are also many vegan cheeses with their own distinct flavor profiles. “There are vegan cheeses available that I can assure you, people won’t be able the tell the difference!” Grob says. “But then there are also some that are very different. And that’s OK, because it isn’t about creating exact replicas—it’s about having a great product that hits the 'cheese' spot and doesn’t require an animal’s involvement.”

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