The vegan cheese world is evolving, with more sophisticated artisan-style cheeses available now than ever before. Is it time to take these cheeses seriously?
Published June 15, 2021.
With more and more people interested in eating plant-based foods some or all of the time, vegan cheeses are appearing on store shelves in a greater number of varieties than ever before. We thought it was time to take a closer look at one especially exciting emerging category: vegan cheeses that would be appropriate for serving plain on a vegan cheese plate. After surveying the market, we chose and tasted eight of the most well-regarded nationally available products, picking the top sellers from each manufacturer whenever possible. While promising new vegan mozzarellas, fetas, and cheddars are also available, we focused on cheeses that would be best eaten off a cheese plate, plain and uncooked, including Brie- and blue cheese–style cheeses in addition to two soft, spreadable fresh-style cheeses. To keep the focus firmly on the cheese itself, we chose "plain" cheeses whenever possible.
Most vegan cheeses are made from a base of nuts—usually cashews, which are rich in fat and fairly neutral in flavor—blended with water to make a smooth “milk.” To this base, some vegan cheese manufacturers add oils, starches, and flavorings so that the textures and flavors of the products more closely resemble those of dairy cheeses. Many artisanal vegan cheeses are then inoculated with cultures and fermented to produce more-complex flavors. Some are aged, though when they are, it's usually for a relatively short period of time when compared with some dairy cheeses. The degree to which aging seemed to affect our preferences depended on the type of cheese. Dairy Bries are usually aged for a few weeks, and when it came to the vegan Bries, we strongly preferred those that were aged for at least two or up to four weeks. Two unaged Bries landed dead last, while one Brie, which is aged for just four to five days, was polarizing. In contrast, the cultures and manufacturing processes used to make the two blue cheeses we tasted likely had a bigger impact on our preferences than the aging period. And we liked the two soft, spreadable vegan cheeses in our lineup that, similar to the fresh dairy cheeses that most likely inspired them, were unaged.
Textures ran the gamut from soft and spreadable to firm and relatively dry, though many of our favorite cheeses leaned toward the creamy side. Some tasters found the dense, rich textures of certain Brie-style cheeses in the lineup to be closer to that of cream cheese, though this wasn’t necessarily a negative. Whether or not their textures closely resembled those of their dairy counterparts, most of the cheeses were enjo...
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