How to Make Vegan Cheese, in 12 Easy Recipes
Homemade vegan cheese is not as complicated as it sounds! Use everyday ingredients and a blender or food processor — and you’re on your way.
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Dairy cheese is often one of the hardest foods to give up when adopting a plant-based diet. It stars in dozens of comfort food classics and never fails to please a crowd.
DIY vegan cheese to the rescue! Whether you’re totally plant-based or just reducing your dairy (and lactose) intake, making dairy-free cheese at home is fun, thrifty, and almost always more delicious than anything you can pitch into your shopping cart. With a small investment of time, you can make your own vegan cheeses at home using ingredients available at most grocery stores.
Vegan cheeses aren’t exact duplications of dairy cheese. I think of them as fabulous cheese-like foods adding creaminess, tang, and richness to dishes.
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Vegan cheese FAQs
Here’s what you need to know about vegan cheese.
What is vegan cheese?
Plant-based milks don’t have the properties of dairy milk, so you can’t just swap almond milk in a dairy cheese process and have it turn out. Most dairy cheese is cultured, meaning beneficial bacteria is added to it to change its flavor and texture. All but one of the DIY vegan cheeses gathered here aren't cultured — they’re entry-level recipes you can try without getting too specialized or investing a lot of time.
Important ingredients in vegan cheese
Likely most of these will be familiar to you and readily available at your local grocery or natural foods store.
Plant-based milk: For the recipes here, most unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milks such as almond milk and coconut milk will work.
Nutritional yeast: This flaky, shelf-stable yellow powder isn't live yeast, but deactivated yeast used as a flavor booster and nutritional supplement (it’s packed with amino acids and often fortified with B vitamins). Adding it to recipes is a shortcut to an umami cheesy flavor. Nooch (as some affectionately call it) is great, but it’s possible to overdo it, especially in vegan cheeses mimicking milder dairy cheese, like ricotta. Eventually, you’ll learn the right level for you.
Nuts: Soaked and pureed nuts lend a creaminess to vegan cheese. Cashews are a go-to, but you can also use blanched almonds, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts.
Tapioca starch: This fine white starch lends that elusive melty quality to vegan cheeses. Don’t substitute cornstarch or arrowroot — they don’t have the same properties. Look for tapioca flour (also labeled “tapioca starch”) among specialty flours or shelved in the gluten-free section at the grocery store.
Refined coconut oil: Because it’s solid at room temperature, refined coconut oil is a useful ingredient when you need to add fat and richness to vegan cheeses you want to be sliceable. Don’t use unrefined coconut oil, which tastes too much of coconut — very out of place in cheese.
Agar powder: Aka agar-agar, this seaweed-derived gelatin gives body to vegan cheeses aiming for a final texture of cheddar, Swiss, or mozzarella. You may not find it in a grocery store — Asian markets carry it (get the powder, not the flakes), or you can look at a nutritional supplement store.
Spices: Dairy cheese does not typically have mustard, garlic, or onion powder — but a little bit in a batch of vegan cheese adds a depth of flavor.
Equipment for making vegan cheese
Nothing too crazy here!
High-powered blender: It's handy, though not always necessary, to have a high-powered blender to make a fine nut puree. If you have only a food processor or regular blender, be sure to soak your nuts, or the final product you wind up with will be slightly chunky and not creamy or smooth.
Food processor: Some cheeses, like tofu ricotta, come together better in a food processor than in a blender.
Cheesecloth: Some recipes advise straining vegan cheese through cheesecloth for a more coherent texture, just as you would dairy cheese. You can also use a nut milk bag or a very clean old T-shirt.
How to make nut-free vegan cheeses
If you can’t have nuts, look for recipes calling for seeds. Because of their fat content and the more neutral flavor, sunflower seeds may work better than others. Hemp seeds can make a tasty Parmesan-like sprinkle.
How to store vegan cheese
You can store most of these in the fridge just like regular cheese — in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic. A few you can age a bit to create a drier, firmer texture. Wrap them in cheesecloth and put them in the refrigerator.
How to freeze vegan cheese
A lot of these cheeses you can freeze for later use. That way, you don’t have to scramble to use up a batch — just pull a pack from the freezer without having to make new cheese every time you want some.
Vegan cheese sauces and dips
Here’s how to make creamy, utterly cheese-like sauces and dips. Just puree, heat, and serve!
This terrific beginner recipe goes over with everyone. The secret? A cooked potato lends the sauce a silky quality. It’s easy to reheat this queso blanco, so make a batch and break it out for nachos or serve it over your favorite Mexican dishes for a creamy finish.
As a kid, did you yearn for luscious, gooey orange cheese sauce over your veggies? Now, as an adult, you can make it happen! And yes, you’re essentially making your own Cheez Whiz. The orange in this comes from carrots and paprika, and the other ingredients are ones you probably already have on hand.
Vegan Parmesan cheese recipes
Imitations of grated Parmesan are probably the simplest vegan cheeses around.
Raw walnuts' fattiness and willingness to pulverize make them well suited to vegan Parmesan. Just combine the ingredients in a food processor, pulse a couple of times, and you’re ready to Parm!
A mix of oily sunflower and hemp seeds spiked with nutritional yeast comes together fast for a vegan Parmesan with the same nostalgic appeal as the stuff in the green can. Sprinkle it over pasta, popcorn, soups, or anywhere you need to kick up flavor.
Crumbly vegan cheese recipes
Cotija, ricotta, and feta are a breeze! Make a batch and crumble over your favorite dishes or use in casseroles or spreads.
Dairy feta is brined, which is why it’s so sharp and salty. To duplicate that, this recipe ingeniously calls for a little brine from a jar of olives. Tofu is the base, and you puree it with seasonings and refined coconut oil to give it body. This cheese works great crumbled as a garnish over salads and hot entrees.
Cotija, an aged Mexican cheese, falls somewhere between Parmesan and feta in consistency. This simple technique uses blanched, slivered almonds and spins them in a food processor with olive brine to form fine crumbles. Strain the mixture in cheesecloth or a nut bag for a day, then crumble away over enchiladas, chilaquiles, and more!
This mild vegan cotija is looser, more like queso fresco. Blanch cubes of tofu, then puree with refined coconut oil and seasonings, including apple cider vinegar for a bit of tangy flavor. Squeeze out excess moisture in cheesecloth, pack into a bowl or dish, and let set in the fridge for a few hours.
Here’s a vegan ricotta you can make quickly to use in lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, and other beloved Italian dishes. Ricotta tends to be a very mild cheese, and barely-dressed-up tofu stands in nicely.
If you’d like a ricotta with a little more oomph, here’s a nut-based one that gets a little light and airy as the almonds puree in a high-speed blender.
Sliceable and spreadable vegan cheeses
These are more like traditional stand-alone non-vegan cheeses because you can serve them on sandwiches or crackers.
Over the years, Miyoko Schinner has become a revered name in commercial vegan cheese, and she’s been fairly open to sharing her techniques. If you’d like to try your hand at a semisoft cheese you can serve on a board for an appetizer with fruit and crackers, make this cashew cheese with probiotic sauerkraut juice and mellow white miso.
Want a vegan cheese you can melt? Here’s a recipe for a sliceable and firm vegan cheese that gets its body from tapioca starch and agar powder. You puree soaked cashews and flavorings, then gently cook on the stove so the starch and agar can thicken. After 5 hours of setting, you can use it like mozzarella. Wrap it in cheesecloth and age for a day for a drier cheese.
Make a basic mixture of almonds, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast, run it in a blender, and bake briefly to help dry it out. Then, shape it into a log and chill. Dress it up with your favorite fresh herbs — or even with finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes or crushed black peppercorns. Try it with crackers or spread it on a bagel in place of cream cheese.
Explore more vegan and plant-based recipes
Whether you're a card-carrying vegan on the hunt for fresh food ideas or just curious if the grass is greener on that side, we've got the answers. Here are some more helpful articles and handy recipes for your reading and eating pleasure.