Vegan cheeses – options abound

Selection of packets of vegan cheese brands.

One of the foods that non-vegans most often say they could never give up is cheese, made from cow’s milk.  But these days, there are so many great vegan cheeses to choose from, the only real reason not to make the switch is “I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Vegan cheeses can be made from many different ingredients.  Coconut oil is a common ingredient which helps to mimic the texture and meltiness of animal-derived cheese.  Cashew nuts or other nuts or seeds can also be used to provide a rich creamy texture. Other ingredients might include thickening agents such as corn starch, potato starch or tapioca. Protein powder from chickpeas or peas might be added, along with a plant-based oil. Acidifiers like lemon juice can give a vegan cheese a tangy flavor, and seasonings such as salt, onion, garlic, nutritional yeast, and herbs can be added to get the flavor just right.

These days, a popular way to make vegan cheese commercially is by adding bacterial cultures to ferment nut milk, instead of the traditional dairy milk, forming the base for many commercially available vegan cheeses.  Entrepreneurial companies are creating a rich variety of tastes and textures, from shreds and slices to creamy spreads and dips, to solid sliceable blocks. 

Plate with pieces of hard vegan cheese.
Hard vegan cheese

Even the French, well known for their famous cheeses, are starting to get in on the act.  As part of the France 2030 sustainability plan, a project called AlinOVeg is investing $12 million to develop and accelerate the production alternatives to dairy cheeses and other products such as desserts, using bases such as pea protein and fava beans.

Iconic French cheese companies are working to produce vegan versions of classics such as Boursin, Babybel and even The Laughing Cow wedges. Meanwhile in Amsterdam, a food company has created a Gouda-style cheese fermented in the same way as traditional dairy cheese but using fava beans as a base.

With so many choices, the only challenge for the consumer is tasting all the different brands to find out which ones you like the best.