I probably appreciate cheese more than the average person — the dairy-laden type of fromage that makes a charcuterie board sing and a pizza one of the greatest edible creations on earth. But, somewhat ironically, I also appreciate plant-based spins on classics just as dearly — and if you were to peer inside my fridge on any given week, you’d find a block of Parm, some fancy old Cheddar and a nut cheese or two sitting pretty. Because balance is everything, right?
I consider myself a bit of an expert on vegan cheese (and vegan cheese brands in general) — and to be totally honest, I expect them to stand up to their traditional counterpart. Call me a harsh critic, but there are some questionable dairy-free options on shelves that are definitely not worth their $7-$12 price tag.
So, after having taste tested my fair share, here’s my honest opinion on four popular plant-based, dairy-free cheeses available in Canada, from nut-based options to inventive coconut-inspired versions.
1. Violife Foods’ Feta-Style Block
Feta cheese made vegan and palatable is an ambitious undertaking. I’ll admit: I was skeptical about this one. But Violife’s coconut-oil based version is deceiving in the best way. It tastes like feta (read: super creamy, slightly salty and silky smooth) and even crumbles like it. Any lingering taste of coconut was subtler than I imagined, which makes it a reliable salad topper. I haven’t tried melting it yet (on Greek-style pizza or whipped into baked potatoes?) but consider it my next “cooking in quarantine” experiment.
Who Will Love It: Feta-cheese devotees seeking a dairy-free alternative that passes the taste test. Also those who prefer a nut-free vegan fromage.
Rating: 4 cheese wheels out of 5
2. Farm Boy’s Camembert-Style Ash-Ripened Cashew Cheese
OK, this is hands down my favourite Canadian vegan cheese on the market right now, which further solidifies Farm Boy’s well-earned status as the Canadian Trader Joes (who’s with me?). If you’re looking for a plant-based option, the Ontario grocery chain’s brand of nut-based cheeses are worth the $10.99 splurge. Bonus points for creativity: their Camembert-style cashew wheel is “ripened” with food-grade activated charcoal, which gives it a convincing rind reminiscent of traditional Camembert.
Who Will Love It: Charcuterie-loving hosts looking for a crowd-pleasing vegan cheese that’ll elevate any grazing board.
Rating: 5 cheese wheels out of 5
3. Field Roast’s Chao Creamy Original Slices
Field Roast is a popular vegan brand, and their cheese slices boast a more affordable price tag ($6.99) than the rest on this list. Made from coconut oil and tofu, it’s another nut-free option, though unfortunately, it didn’t pass the taste test for me. Eaten on its own, it has a mild coconut flavour and tastes more processed than the rest. However, it melts beautifully, and when tossed on a bagel with all the vegan fixings, it proved a satisfying and easy lunch.
Who Will Love It: Easy-to-please eaters who want a sliceable plant-based cheese in their fridge for quick meals, from loaded breakfast sandwiches to gourmet grilled cheese.
Rating: 3 cheese wheels out of 5
4. Culcherd’s Tree Nut Cheese, Herb & Garlic
You’ll find this round of creamy, herbaceous vegan cheese in my fridge most often thanks to its versatility. I’ll slather it onto crackers (think Boursin, just not quite as spreadable), dollop it onto spaghetti squash pasta or chop up pieces to toss into a salad. It’s another rich, cashew-based option that’s super filling — and also fragrant thanks to ingredients like nutritional yeast, garlic powder, basil, parsley and thyme.
Who Will Love It: The everyday cook and kitchen grazer looking for a reliable nut cheese to always have on hand, no matter what’s on the menu for the week.
Rating: 4 cheese wheels out of 5
Recipe: Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Overall, there are some impressive dairy-free cheese products out there, whether you prescribe to a vegan diet or not. But here’s the thing: if you don’t want to splurge on a fancy block, try your hand at making one at home instead.
I followed this recipe for Vegan Parmesan Cheese (final product pictured above!). It took all of five minutes to whip up and calls for five simple ingredients (cashews, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt). A little pinch goes a long way, and it lasts in the fridge for up to one month.
First photo courtesy of Violife Foods; remaining photos and feature image courtesy of Brittany Devenyi