It’s fair to say that good cheese is one of the finest treats on the planet. An artisan sharp cheddar with smoky ham on some multi-grain bread spread with tangy mustard is as close to heaven as you can get on earth. Never mind the joys of a scratch made macaroni and cheese. But some people aren’t given the option of enjoying cheese — either because they’re lactose intolerant or they’ve opted to consume fewer (or no) animal products.
For decades, nay millennia, a life without cheese inspired pity. Nutritional yeast is great and all, but can it hang with aged parmesan? Never.
In recent years, the tables have… not turned, but at least shifted a little. In 2019 there are enough vegan and dairy-free cheese alternatives on the market that gooey casseroles and melty, pull-worthy sandwiches are still a possibility for vegans. In fact, when dairy-free cheese is done right, it can be fantastic (when it’s wrong it’s still very, very wrong).
We gathered some of the most popular non-cheese cheeses on the market today and ranked them against one another. For the most part, they all have something to recommend them — giving you options for nachos, pizza, cheese boards, lasagna, sandos, and mac and cheese. Still, we have to concede that the number one way to enhance the taste of any fake cheese is to go without real cheese for a lengthy period. If you regularly eat real cheese, these aren’t going to taste as good to you as they would to a level four vegan.
Sorry. Them’s the facts.
10. Go Veggie! Shreds
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These shreds aren’t good. There. That’s the bottom line. For some reason, they’re carried in a ton of grocery stores and you can find them in the produce section atop the displays of faux sausages and tofu pups. The ubiquity likely fools people into thinking that this cheese analog is a good one, and the reasonable price tag doesn’t hurt either.
Never eat this one cold. Only consume it after it is melted. Otherwise, it has kind of a strange smell and a dry, crumbly texture. On the other hand, it takes longer than traditional cheese to melt and doesn’t have the stretchy, fatty melt that the real thing would give you. It’s not inedible, but it isn’t something you would seek out intentionally, whether you were looking for a fake cheese or not.
The shreds come in three formulations — vegan, lactose-free, and soy- and lactose-free. The vegan shreds are available in Mexican, cheddar, and mozzarella, and the same is the case with the lactose-free option. The soy- and lactose-free shreds only come in mozzarella and cheddar. Admittedly, it’s super nice to have all these kinds of shreds, especially since there are a variety of dietary reasons people might not be able to enjoy dairy-based cheeses. However, there are better options on the market, and most people would benefit from kicking it to a health food store or co-op to explore more unusual and tasty options rather than settling for these bags o’ shredded sadness.
9. So Delicious Shreds
Why are there so many shreds on this list? Who knows? Apparently, the primary aim of the vegan and lactose-free cheese lover is melting, and shreds are made to do that. Whatever ingredient makes them melt-able is also likely why most shreds are simply awful if consumed cold, and the So Delicious offering is no different. If you get hungry while waiting for your pizza to finish baking and reach absent-mindedly into your bag of shreds for a handful, you will end up with a mouthful of flavorless sawdust.
This “cheese” leans toward the bland, musty end of the spectrum. However, when heated the flavor comes out, and though it doesn’t taste like actual cheese, it isn’t… too bad. It’s salty and savory and a little rich and creamy.
These shreds are offered in cheddar, cheddar jack, and mozzarella. Coconut milk is the primary ingredient in all of them, and thankfully the final products don’t taste terrible strongly of coconut, which is often a problem in vegan products that rely on this tropical fruit for fat and flavor. (You wanna be horrified? Accidentally buy some mint chocolate chip ice cream with a coconut base. It’s like brushing your teeth and drinking a tiki drink simultaneously, which is to say that it sucks.) This cheese analog thankfully skirts this problem and instead delivers a decent facsimile of the dairy version.
8. Tofutti Slices
Ranking Tofutti slices is a bit complicated because these little cheese analogs are looking to replicate American cheese, meaning the degree to which they are a cheesy taste treat hinges entirely on whether or not you accept Kraft singles as cheese. And do you really? It’s worth noting that Tofutti slices come in both American and mozzarella flavors, but the “cheese” never comes close to tasting like a good mozz. Think of the slices more as orange American and white American and you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes down to it, even the best non-dairy American cheese is still American cheese. Although, honestly, these do a very good job of aping the texture and flavor of their dairy counterparts in a way that isn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, the most glowing recommendation of this product would probably be that it is neutral in flavor and that the texture is spot on for American cheese. If those are the glowing reviews you look for when putting together a nostalgic grilled cheese, then this is a great vegan alternative. Although (and we don’t want to come off judgy here), try to aim a little higher.
7. Daiya Shreds
The big selling point when Daiya hit the market was that it melted. That’s it. Customers overlooked entirely that the cheese was like consuming a rubbery salt lick because no previous “cheese” melted into a state of delirious gooiness the way real cheese could. And though Daiya doesn’t even come close to the silky fattiness of some sharp cheddar between two slices of crusty sourdough or some mild mozzarella piled high on a pizza pie, it does do more than turn into molten strips of plastic-y lava. Barely. The texture stays pretty rubbery and the taste both pre- and post-melting is definitely artificial. However, that didn’t stop every place offering vegan pizza in Portland, Oregon from using Daiya five years ago. You couldn’t tickle a vegan hipster without them falling into a giggling heap on some Daiya shreds.
Shreds come in mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, and classic styles using the original recipe. And Daiya also released premium options as part of their Cutting Board Collection, which uses a new recipe and nutritional profile. This collection includes pepper jack, cheddar, and mozzarella, and it boasts improved taste, melt, and texture. It is definitely a lot more like cheese, but the fact that these improvements simply added to the line rather than replacing the original formulation entirely speaks to how much people love OG Daiya shreds.
They may not be our fave, but they have a passionate fan base.
6. Kite Hill Ricotta
Obviously, this is a bit of a deviation from the rest of the entries here, as ricotta isn’t really in the same cheese class as a cheddar or smoked gouda. But it is still a cheese. And it’s worth including in a non-dairy cheese ranking because for a long time the only ricotta sub was some tofu that was run through a food processor. Though that will still net you a tasty vegan lasagna, it’s not the same as a creamy dairy-based cheese. Thankfully, Kite Hill has developed this versatile, silky alternative that works in savory things like manicotti and in place of mascarpone in desserts.
The ingredients of this faux ricotta couldn’t be simpler: almond milk (water, almonds), salt, enzymes, tartaric acid, and cultures. One might think that would lead to a bland final product, but it is actually quite flavorful and a little on the tangy side. People looking for the sweet cream of a dairy ricotta will be disappointed, but the mouthfeel won’t let them down. The texture is first rate with a fluffy, cloud-like consistency that blends beautifully into recipes. It also makes ricotta pancakes that are the stuff.
5. Daiya Blocks
It’s somewhat baffling that the Daiya shreds should be so lackluster but seemingly the same cheese in block shape should somehow be tasty, tasty. Presumably, the formulation for the shreds is focused on crafting a cheese that melts like a dream and not on making one that has a good firm texture and balanced flavor. The blocks take the opposite approach and it works. In fact, if someone wasn’t a cheese connoisseur or regular partaker of the dairy wonder, they could be fooled into thinking this was real cheese if used with finesse. This is especially true of the smoked gouda flavor, which has a very mild smoke flavor and aroma that makes it freaking delicious when incorporated into recipes.
The farmhouse blocks come in jalapeno Havarti, medium cheddar, Monterey jack, and the smoked gouda shouted out above. None of them taste exactly like the cheese they claim to mimic, but they do have enjoyable flavors. You have to let go of the expectation that you are eating real cheese and sort of love them for what they are, which is a bit more like a melty Velveeta than a tangy cheddar or creamy Havarti.
Like all Daiya, meltiness is the prime selling point, so people missing a good patty melt or rich casserole will love this.
4. Follow Your Heart Slices
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If you are vegan or tend to eschew animal products and you like the flavor of mayo, chances are you know the Follow Your Heart people for their Vegenaise. We get that mayonnaise is a touchy subject for a lot of people. It seems to inspire stronger feelings than a condiment would warrant, but we aren’t passing judgment. We’re just saying, if you eat mayo and enjoy it, you should keep an eye out for the chipotle, sriracha, and pesto versions of Vegenaise because they are legit.
But does a good mayo alternative mean a good cheese alternative? Well, kind of. This cheese melts like a dream with satisfactory gooiness devoid of runniness. We like the texture cold as well because it’s a bit fatty and doesn’t feel like rubber. The flavors of the slices aren’t terribly strong, so don’t expect cheesiness to shine through in your sandwich, but you will get saltiness and pleasant softness. For instance, the smoked gouda is way more smoke than gouda, but it’s not bad.
These slices are available in provolone, medium cheddar, the aforementioned smoked gouda, American, pepper jack, mozzarella, and garden herb. A lot of the richness in this fake cheese comes from a large amount of coconut oil in the ingredients. Coconut oil had a real moment a few years ago that has kept it fairly popular, but some people have concerns about the fats in it and their relation to heart health and cholesterol. It has more saturated fat than butter, so the concerns have some merit. However, when eaten in moderation, this should be fine. And though it does taste good, it doesn’t taste small batch sharp cheddar good, so you likely won’t be eating a pack of it over the kitchen sink.
3. Miyoko’s Kitchen Cheese Wheel
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In most of these rankings, the degree to which a cheese alternative replicates the experience of eating rich, dairy-based cheese is the determiner of that alternative’s placements. That isn’t entirely the case here because Miyoko’s cheeses are genuinely delicious even though they don’t make an identical facsimile. This is less a set of twins situation and more siblings who each have something about them that makes them special. You sure won’t be confusing them for one another, but you would be happy to spend time with either (even if you like one a little bit more).
Miyokos is made from cashew cream that is fermented with live cultures, and the formula relies heavily on methods used in the dairy industry. It comes in flavors like classic double cream chive, sundried tomato garlic, garlic herb, rustic alpine, sharp farmhouse, smoked farmhouse, herbes de provence, winter truffle, fresh Loire Valley, and black ash. Snapping up one of these soft wheels enveloped in wine-cured fig leaves or black ash is decadent. Their deep umami notes coupled with hints of tart lemon makes them satisfy on a core level, and their mega creamy, dense texture doesn’t hurt. They are legit tasty, even if they won’t fool you into thinking you are downing gobs of triple cream brie.
2. Treeline Soft French-Style Nut Cheeses
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We love brie. We love camembert. We love neufchâtel. There may, in fact, not be a single soft French cheese out there that hasn’t captured our hearts and delighted our fancies at some point. So we aren’t likely to get super jazzed about a faux French cheese made primarily with cashews. However, this “cheese” is genuinely a good time. It is a bit tangy like one would expect more from a goat milk cheese than from a cow milk cheese and the texture is exactly what you would expect from a soft dairy cheese. For something made with ground Brazilian cashews cultured with lactobacillus acidophilus, that’s a pretty decent compliment. If you run out and buy some, be aware that it can be a bit gray, which many people find off-putting. But it still tastes good, so don’t worry too much.
Looking for some semi-soft cheese to spread on some crusty French bread? Treeline gives you a choice between scallion, chipotle-serrano pepper, green peppercorn, and herb-garlic flavors. The cashews are mild and fatty, making the ideal creamy base for a faux dairy offering and the addition of these flavor elements elevates the taste to something with decent bite and umami. To make the most of them, whip up a cheese plate with some fresh fruits and veggies, briny olives, seasoned nuts, and well-baked bread. Then, mow the whole thing down with a few glasses of wine. You won’t be sorry.
1. Chao Slices
The Field Roast folk excel at providing plant-based alternatives that are genuinely yummy to put in your mouth. Their faux hot dogs are the best on the market, their hand-formed burgers are tasty, their sausages are dope (holla, apple sage!). Heck, they even make a good fake meatloaf. So it was no surprise to us when we tried the offerings from the Chao Creamery, the umbrella under which their dairy-free cheeses are produced, and discovered they were legit. What we love about this particular cheese replacement is that it is good both cold and hot, which isn’t the case with most “cheeses.” We will admit that Chao can feel a little sticky when melted, but it’s also silky and fatty, which makes for a satisfying mouthfeel and flavor.
This line started 15 years ago — when the creators used fermented tofu, fresh tofu, fresh garlic, shiro miso paste, and seasonings to make a cheese ball. Their current offerings still use fermented tofu to add to the umami and consistency, and it works surprisingly well. The slices come in garden herb, creamy original, and tomato cayenne. The tomato cayenne is orange like American cheese, but the taste is spicy and layered and completely addictive in sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. The creamy original makes for a great Reuben sandwich. And the garden herb is sublime on crackers. It’s good stuff.