When you’re contemplating going vegan or converting to the dairy-free life, you can’t help think, “But what about pizza?” Well, thanks to the invention of vegan cheese, you can have your pie — and wine and cheese — any day of the week.
Vegan cheese is usually made from nuts and seeds, like cashews and walnuts, plus a combination of spices, herbs and nutritional yeast. Some vegan cheeses are also made with aquafaba (the liquid inside canned chickpeas) and tofu. McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN, dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped, says, “Most have similar benefits and nutritional makeups since they’re made from nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds provide an array of minerals, fiber, healthy fat and protein,” she explains.
Even if you aren’t dairy-free, vegan cheese is a great alternative for cutting back on saturated fat and calories. But it’s important to read the label. “Keep it simple and look out for added sugars or oils,” Hill says. “It’s best to opt for one that has limited amounts or none of those ingredients.” Here are our picks to live your best dairy-free life — with some semblance of the gooey, stretchy, scrumptious stuff.
The 6 Best Vegan Cheeses to Make at Home
1. For ricotta cheese…swap in almond cheese.
Almonds are the perfect swap for creamy cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese or goat cheese. Almonds have a subtle nutty flavor, which plays well with a variety of spices and herbs. “I use almond ricotta cheese in lasagnas, on top of pasta or even as a spread for sandwiches,” Hill says. To make almond ricotta cheese yourself, soak one cup of almonds in water for at least an hour. Then add to a high-speed blender, along with a quarter-cup of water, some lemon juice and ground black pepper and salt. You can enhance the flavor by adding other ingredients, like Dijon mustard, nutritional yeast and minced garlic. For a store-bought version, Hill recommends Kite Hill.
2. For Brie…swap in cashew cheese.
While it’s hard to find the complex taste and texture of Brie in vegan cheese, Hill says the thickness of cashew cheese is a good substitute. Cashew’s buttery, indulgent quality makes it a great match for Brie. Just remember to stick to portion sizes because it’s calorie-dense. In her classic cashew cheese recipe, she blends cashews with nutritional yeast, white wine or apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard and sea salt. A staple of vegan dishes, nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins and protein, minus the saturated fat. Plus, it boasts a savory flavor that can mimic everything from cheddar to chicken soup.
3. For Parmesan…swap in hemp seed crumble cheese.
A small sprinkle of grated Parmesan can go a long way in everything from pastas to soups. Parmesan is a hard cheese with sharp fruity and nutty flavors and a course texture. To get the same effect, Hill’s hemp seed crumble recipe includes walnuts, hemp seeds, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic and sea salt. Toss the garlicky, seedy mixture into salads, use it to coat tofu or tempeh, or sprinkle over baked pasta for a nice crunch. It’s nutritious, too: Walnuts and hemp seeds deliver protein, fiber and a big dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
4. For blue cheese…swap in garlic and herb cashew cheese.
Whether you prefer sharp and nutty flavors of Gorgonzola or the spiciness of Stilton, there are many varieties of blue cheese to perk up your dishes. And this garlic and herb vegan cheese from Minimalist Baker is a close match. The use of garlic powder, nutritional yeast and fresh minced dill gives this cashew cheese the “moldy” look and a prominent taste similar to Roquefort blue cheese. Serve with crudité and whole-grain crackers for a delicious wine and faux-cheese spread.
5. For mozzarella…swap in Daiya cheese.
The stringiness and mouthwatering texture of mozzarella can be hard to replicate at home. That’s why we recommend seeking out a store-bought, dairy-free cheese like Daiya. Made with tapioca starch, arrowroot, coconut oil and potato protein isolate, Daiya’s shredded, dairy-free mozzarella is perfect for making pizzas, tacos, quesadillas and salads. Tapioca, which comes from the root vegetable cassava, is used as a thickening agent in many foods, including vegan cheese. It lends vegan cheese that same hearty texture, but it’s easier to digest. Did we mention it actually melts and stretches?
6. For queso…swap in vegan kimchi queso.
Queso cheese dip is a Mexican food favorite that usually has a combination of cheeses, including Velveeta or American cheese and pepper jack cheese. To give it that spicy flair, it’s usually seasoned with chili powder, cumin and smoked paprika. This vegan kimchi queso recipe from Simply Quinoa calls for cashews, almond milk, nutritional yeast, Sriracha, smoked paprika, tapioca starch and, yes, kimchi. Cashews give this cheese its creamy texture, while Sriracha adds bold flavor. Bonus health benefits: The addition of kimchi, which is packed with probiotics, makes it extra gut-friendly, too.