A: Alisa – Last week I addressed the first part of Gwen’s email on “Why is it so hard to find a good a good dairy-free pizza cheese?” This week I am moving onto the second part of her question asking for recommendations.
As for “good” vegan / dairy-free cheese alternatives, that is of course a matter of taste. You can view our take on various cheese alternatives in our product reviews, and see all options currently on the North American market (with links to the manufacturers) in our No Dairy Product Lists. But here are some notes on popular brands (ten in total!) that might help to get you started:
Daiya Foods Shredded Cheese Alternative (tapioca / arrowroot-based and uses pea protein) – Daiya seems to meet that stretchy craving and fill the casein void somewhat. Many reviews say the flavor is good but quite mild. If you really want that lasagna or pizza melt and stretch, this could be the best option, but, if you are looking for a flavor punch, there are probably better brands for you. Nonetheless, some who have snubbed their nose at every other vegan cheese alternative on the market, declared Daiya their Holy Grail. Daiya comes in Mozzarella and Cheddar shreds, and it gets bonus points for being soy-free, gluten-free, and free from the top food allergens. Bags of these cheesy shreds are popping up in natural food stores throughout the U.S.
Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative from Follow Your Heart (soy-based) – Many people swear by this brand, and for years it seemed to be the only decent game in town. The four flavors (Cheddar, Mozzarella, Nacho, and Jack) do share similar taste properties with their dairy cousins and can be used accordingly in recipes. It shreds well, but it takes some coaxing to melt this brand. Sometimes the microwave or a good broil in the oven is required, and even then, there is no guarantee. But, this brand is pretty easy to find in natural food stores and even in many major grocers.
Teese Vegan “Cheese” (soy-based) – This brand emerged on the market with quite a bang as it was the first cheese alternative to receive many consistent “melting” reports. In fact, some say it melts a little too well, forming a liquid that needs to cool up and firm a bit. In terms of taste, many report that it is close to “real cheese” in flavor.
Sheese Vegan “Cheese” (soy-based) – This Irish brand gets huge points for variety. From Cheshire to Blue, Edam to Smoked Cheddar, they have their cheese bases covered. The flavors are good, and I have enjoyed it sliced in sandwiches and baked into recipes (like these cheesy scones), but if you are looking for a great “melt” experience, then this may not be your best option. It does shred very well, and will add flavor to your recipes, but don’t expect a gooey topping.
Cheezly Slices and Blocks (soy-based w/ one soy-free option) – Cheezly from Redwood Foods is the star brand out of the UK. You can find it in some natural food stores in the U.S. and online, and according to the vegan review goddess quarrygirl, “the taste of the cheezly on a pizza was absolutely delicious. It was salty, cheesy, milky, and probably the best tasting fake cheese I’ve ever had.” In terms of texture, she said, “Cheezly’s melt factor was awesome. Pretty much like real cheese.” Like Sheese, they offer a variety of flavors – gotta love the variety out of the UK! They do offer a soy-free cheddar option that uses a potato starch and pea protein base. It is considered a “non-melting” variety, but is reportedly quite tasty.
Rice Vegan Slices and Blocks from Galaxy Foods (rice-based, soy-free) – Do not confuse the Rice “Vegan” Slices and Blocks with the regular Rice Slices and Blocks from Galaxy Foods. The latter are simply lactose-free and contain casein. They are easily confused, so look for the “Vegan” label specifically if you want a dairy-free option. This brand gets some mixed reviews, but many moms with food allergic children consider it a staple in their shopping carts. The slices are very similar in look to Velveeta slices, and they do melt – in fact, most agree that this cheese alternative tastes much better when melted. I have tried them and they aren’t bad, fairly tasty even. Don’t expect miracles here, but they do melt and can fill a void … particularly when you need a soy-free product that is sold in many stores.
Tofutti Soy-Cheese Slices (soy-based) – Years ago, before the emergence of so many vegan cheese alternatives, I heard many good things about this product. But … I never recommend it because it is made with hydrogenated oils. Should this factor not bother you, then give them a go!
Ste Martaen Gourmet Vegan Cheese Alternative (nut-based, soy-free) – I love the concept of this soy-free cheese alternative that is made with very all-natural ingredients, and the flavors are quite good. This is one that doesn’t seem to mimic cheese to my taste buds, but is quite delicious in its own right. We really enjoyed it on sandwiches and cheese, but do not expect it to melt, at all. In fact, even when I finally coaxed it into a sauce (after vigorous stirring and declumping) it resolidified within seconds of being removed from the heat. I think they use a bit too much agar in their formula to get that nice solid state, which makes the texture a bit to gelatin-like in my book. But it still wins points for the great flavors.
VeganRella (rice, oat, and starch-based) – I hear great things about this cheese alternatives in terms of taste and texture, and it is reportedly soy-free, but boy are is it hard to locate. I have never actually seen it in stores, and many loyal customers complain that they frequently go in and out of stock at their local supermarket. A few milk-free moms, special dieters, and a good friend who is a kosher chef have all told me that it melts well and has a good flavor … if you can find it. There are other “Rella” cheese alternatives, such as AlmondRella and TofuRella, but they do contain casein (milk protein).
Soy Kaas-Vegan Blocks (soy-based) – This alternative is made by the same company as VeganRella (Panos Brands). They used to have a Vegi-Kaas that was starch-based (soy-free), but I believe it was replaced by VeganRella. I haven’t found Soy Kaas locally, and have heard little about it since so many people confuse the vegan versions with the non-vegan versions. It reportedly melts decently, and in terms of flavor, like the other cheese alternatives it seems to be a matter of individual taste. Be sure to look for the vegan variety of Soy Kaas specifically (it comes in cheddar and mozzarella), as all of the other hard “cheese” varieties do contain milk.
For all cheese alternative options plus milk, sour cream, ice cream, and chocolate alternatives, see the No Dairy Product Lists.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.