Vegan Cheeses

For many food lovers, the idea of vegan cheese once seemed like an oxymoron. How could you possibly replicate the rich, savory depth and luxurious textures of a grass-fed gouda or a decadent triple creme without dairy? Surely a non-dairy cheese is destined to be a pale imitation.

As it turns out, the latest wave of artisanal vegan cheesemakers are proving the skeptics wrong. Through creative techniques harnessing ingredients like nuts, fungi, vegetables, and even lab-cultured proteins, non-dairy cheeses are enjoying a true renaissance. No longer does one have to sacrifice flavor or texture to enjoy plant-based alternatives.

Rather than simply mimicking their dairy counterparts, top vegan cheesemakers are developing their own unique cheese traditions. Exploring non-dairy fromage provides an opportunity to experience innovative flavor profiles and textural wonders you simply can't find in the cow, goat or sheep milk-based world. With the rise in quality and variety, even discerning cheese enthusiasts and chefs are taking note of this vegan revolution.

The Roots of Vegan Cheese

While the concept of dairy-free cheese substitutes has been around for decades, often utilizing ingredients like soy, nuts and vegetable oils, the artisanal plant-based cheese movement began taking shape in the early 2000s.

One of the pioneers was Miyoko Schinner, who used aged rejuvelac (made from nutritional yeast cultures) to create her first cultured, fermented cashew-based vegan cheese in 2003. As interest grew, Schinner authored several books and launched the Miyoko's Creamery line of vegan cheeses and butters, which continue to win over omnivores and vegans alike.

Fellow visionaries like Lydia and Victor Palermo set up Peninsula Plant Craft in Ontario to produce handmade cashew cheeses, while Treeline Treenut Cheeses started transforming cashew nuts, vegetable oils and probiotic cultures into rich, spreadable dairy alternatives. This new wave sparked growing excitement for non-dairy cheesemaking's creative possibilities.

Vegan Cheesemaking Wizardry

Much like their traditional counterparts, artisanal vegan cheeses can take on an impressive range of flavors and textures - from firm and sliceable, to soft-ripened and bloomy, to gooey and melt-worthy. However, without the casein proteins found in mammalian milk, the process requires innovative coagulants and culturing agents.

Popular bases may include soaked and blended nuts like cashews, almonds, macadamias or pine nuts, which provide a rich, buttery foundation. Coconut oil or other plant-based fats help with firmness and meltability. Vegetable-based coagulants like agar or carrageenan aid with achieving the perfect texture.

For tangy, sharp or savory flavor notes, vegan cheesemakers utilize probiotic cultures like acidophilus or rejuvelac along with aging them on edible biofilms of molds and yeast to create rinded cheeses. Others incorporate ingredients like roasted garlic, truffles, ash or smoke to achieve complex nuances.

One of the most fascinating innovations in non-dairy cheese is the utilization of perfect day lab-cultured milk proteins by companies like California's Perfect Day and London's VEG-AN. Using fermented fungi strains, they can brew nature-identical milk proteins without a single cow involved. When combined with plant-based fats and sugar, these animal-free proteins can yield everything from creamy ricottas to tangy cheddars that melt and stretch just like their dairy siblings.

An Exploration of Tastes and Textures

For cheese lovers looking to explore artisanal vegan fromage, here are just a few styles gaining fresh appreciation:

Cashew Cheeses: With their rich, creamy texture that can mimic anything from cream cheese to firm wheels, cashew cheeses are having a moment. Top picks include Miyoko's Classic Double Cream Chive and Treeline's tangy Scallion or tart Peppedew cashew styles.

Aged Nut Cheeses: As nut-based cheeses age, enzymatic and microbial processes can create savory depth and complex flavors. Two stand-outs are Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery, redolent of hit blue cheese, and the Spanish Torta de Gazta, brined and smoked over maple wood like a rich huela.

Cultured Fresh Cheeses: For fresh, spreadable indulgences, non-dairy cream cheeses and yogurt-cheese fresca are spot-on dairy dupes. Don't miss Kite Hill's delectable Ricotta or Miyoko's tangy, probiotic-filled Classic Double Cream Chive.

Stretchy, Meltable Delights: Few vegan cheeses spark more delight than those that bead up into stretchy strands when heated. While many plant-based cheeses struggle to achieve that gooey accomplishment, brands like Violife's Just Like Mature Cheddar or Daiya's new Stretching Plant-Based Cheeze Sticks finally pass the melt-o-meter test for sublime panini, quesadillas or oozingly topped casseroles.

Whether you're already a committed vegan looking to expand your cheese board horizons or an omnivore intrigued by the potential of thoughtfully crafted dairy alternatives, the new non-dairy cheese frontier has something to excite every type of turophile. With care and creativity, plant-based pioneers are creating new classics for turophiles to relish in every bite.

The Plant-Based Cheese

A cheese plate or dessert course featuring vegan varieties may require some new service conventions compared to their dairy counterparts. With a few tips, you can serve non-dairy cheeses that will dazzle guests:

Mind the Temperature: Many plant-based cheeses can become overly firm at refrigerated temps, losing their rich creaminess and flavors. Take out nut cheeses an hour ahead of serving to let them luxuriously soften and develop aromas. Cow's milk cheeses should be served cool but not ice cold. Get those temps right.

To Bake or Not to Bake: Know your cheeses' melting abilities. Cashew or coconut-based wheels like Miyoko's aged cheddars can get gooey and stretchy, perfect for baked en croute or warming to pour over veggies. Many nut-based cheeses won't perform well in the oven or sous vide, but can handle a quick broil or brûlée topping.

Perfect Pairings: For soft, fresh cashew or almond cheeses, try alongside late summer heirloom tomatoes, fresh figs or honeycomb. The herbaceous and creamy Treeline Treenut Scallion is sublime with watermelon radishes and seeded crispbreads.

For aged, Brie or camembert-style vegan cheeses, sip alongside a tart cherry or raspberry lambic or off-dry rosé. And don't overlook bold red wines like Cabernet Franc or Brunello di Montalcino, which play off the earthy funk and nuttiness of aged nut cheese rounds.

No Judgment Cheese Boards: Embrace a blend of dairy and plant-based selections side-by-side on your boards and plates. No need to segregate or label - let the flavors guide your guests on a delicious journey of discovery. After all, a thoughtfully assembled spread is all about exploring complementary and contrasting notes in every sublime bite.

Much like the craft beer renaissance before it, the artisan vegan cheese movement is injecting new energy, innovation and appreciation into an ancient food tradition. These versatile plant-based delicacies allow turophiles of all diets to indulge guilt-free. So let your palate explore a whole new world of non-dairy wonders - you may be surprised at just how luxurious dairy-free can taste.
Made on