What is Vegan Cheese and How Is It Made?

What is vegan cheese?
Vegan cheese

One of the first questions non-vegans ask is, “What is vegan cheese and how is it made?” It’s a good question because cheese is usually made from dairy. We’ll cover the answer to that question and more in this article. 

Vegan cheeses made with plant-based alternatives
Various vegan cheeses that rival traditional cheese in texture and taste

Vegan cheese takes on the world of dairy

For hundreds of years, cheese has been made the world over with various animal products. For example, cheddar cheese is made from cow’s milk and originated from a village in England called Cheddar. Feta cheese is from Greece and is made from sheep or goat’s milk. And, interestingly, the pizza-lovers favorite, mozzarella was traditionally made from Italian Mediterranean buffalo milk.  

In the past few years, however, several different types of plant-based cheese have been launched and hit supermarket shelves around the globe. This is great news for vegan cheese lovers and those who can’t tolerate dairy. It opens the doors for cheesy dishes that are cruelty-free and also makes plant-based options more available to the public. 

How is vegan-friendly cheese made?

Essentially, it depends on the type of cheese you want and the texture you are wanting to achieve. Traditionally, cheeses are produced by adding rennet (an enzyme from an animal’s stomach) to that same animal’s milk. This causes the milk to curdle. After a while, you’ve got cheese! 

Vegan cheese is produced in a similar way. Specifically, the protein from various plant sources (typically nuts or seeds), is mixed with a culture that is vegan and doesn’t contain any animal products. This leads to a chemical reaction that results in vegan cheese being produced.

Other ingredients may also be added to the cheese, including oils, emulsifiers, and thickeners. Depending on the brand, there might also be added flavors that are plant-based and natural and even natural colorants. 

Vegan cheese made from soy
Plant-based cheese can be made from soy

What is typically used instead of dairy?

Interestingly, plant-based cheese first came from China in the 16th century and was made from soy or tofu that was fermented. These days, it can be made from all sorts of ingredients that are plant-based, as long as they are high in protein. 

Vegan-friendly options can be

  • Nuts such as cashews or almonds
  • Seeds such as sunflower and sesame
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives such as soy, rice, and almond milk

Cashews nuts are used a lot because they also have a fat content that is high which results in a cheese that is particularly creamy. 

Starches are also quite commonly used in vegan cheese. In particular, tapioca is used to allow vegan cheese to melt and stretch. 

A popular brand that tends to use tapioca in its vegan cheesemaking is Daiya. This brand has achieved fame as a result of its many different vegan cheese products, from slices to cheesecakes. Daiya also avoids soy, which can be an allergen for many. 

What are the different types of vegan cheese, and what can they be used for?

Thanks to so many enterprising vegan cheesemakers, we have a wide range of cheeses to choose from.

One particularly noteworthy non-dairy cheese is tofu Gouda. Tasting it, you wouldn’t know that it’s made from tofu and potatoes because it has the same buttery, nutty taste as standard Gouda. It can be used in place of Gouda in recipes, and it’s delicious when served on a pizza, a hot sandwich, or a lasagna. Try it with our Vegan Deep Dish Pizza Recipe.

Other types of cheese include smooth “cream cheese” options, hard cheeses like Parmesan and even cheeses that are stretchy like Mozarella. 

As you can see, there are more vegan-friendly options than ever before. Next time you go grocery shopping, don’t be afraid to check out something new and begin to explore the enormous world of vegan cheese!