With the popularity of veganism showing no sign of slowing down, the demand for cruelty-free alternatives to our favourite foods just keeps on increasing.
Plant-based versions of meat, fish, milk and yoghurt are brilliant these days but, historically, vegan cheese has lagged behind in quality – leaving those who don’t do dairy forlornly hankering after some fantastic fromage.
The good news is, things are looking up. We’ve tested everything from cream cheese to fake cheddar, smokey slices and even fancy French cheese dupes. We were looking for authenticity in taste, smell and texture and tried to use each cheese in a multitude of ways, both in raw and cooked form.
Here are the cruelty-free camembert, creamy cheeses and more for your plant-based pleasure.
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Violife Creamy with garlic & herbs, 200g: £2.99, Tesco
This on a toasted bagel was genuinely delicious: very convincing and thankfully not coconut-y at all (coconut oil is the second ingredient listed). It was just as tasty on crackers and we also used it in the same way you’d use Philadelphia sometimes, stirring it into pastas and the like. It held its own each time and gave a salmon (sorry, vegans) and broccoli pasta dish just the right amount of creaminess. It also passed muster with kids on pita bread for a snack while they rejected many others.
Tesco free from coconut oil alternative Wensleydale and cranberry, 200g: £2.25, Tesco
Don’t inspect this too carefully and it could easily be a Wensleydale. The texture is close and crumbly so you could easily be fooled into thinking it’s the real deal; the taste is cool, lactic and tangy with the same fruity cranberries you’d expect. The only thing that gives it away is the smell, but sliced onto crackers you almost wouldn’t know. We didn’t try to melt this one as Wensleydale is never best melted in any case. A great Christmas cheese-board alternative for vegans or the dairy-free among us.
Violife mature cheddar flavour slices, 200g: £2.99, Planet Organic
We tried this one on a few testers and all were impressed with it. It’s not a cheddar in the classic artisanal sense of the word but, in the processed cheddar slice stakes, it’s up there. We happily had slices of this in sandwiches with tomato, or on Ryvita and it was very acceptable. Violife says it melts well, but we disagree – it did not get good marks in the cheese-on-toast stakes as it takes on a plastic-ky feel. Stick to sandwiches – or in a burger, if you don’t actively melt it but just let the burger do the work – and it’s far better. Again, don’t smell it too closely or it gives the game away.
Applewood vegan smoky cheese alternative, 200g: £2.30, Asda
Be grateful that the standard non-vegan Applewood smoked cheddar has such a peculiar rubbery consistency and over-smoked flavour because that is exactly replicated in its vegan version. It is very hard to tell the difference, though the vegan is perhaps missing the umami of the dairy original. In any case, this is a remarkably close match and does well as part of a vegan cheeseboard, or grated onto a jacket potato.
Applewood claims it melts well – and it almost does – although it does take longer than normal cheese. As with most vegan cheeses, the texture changes significantly so the raw original is best. If you’re insistent on melting it, then it works well in a toastie with other ingredients like fried onions or beans.
New Roots free the cow soft white camembert alternative, 115g: £8.75, Planet Organic
Every other camembert-brie alternative we’ve tried has been truly awful, so discovering this New Roots version was extremely exciting. Served as part of a cheeseboard this is like any other young camembert – the rind really looks the part. When cutting into the cheese, the colour is – to be perfectly honest – off putting. However, the taste is very good and it has the same musty ripe smell of its namesake.
We were anticipating the melting to go well and couldn’t wait to see it melt into a panini, however it was not to be. The bread got burnt before the cheese did anything and then the rind turned black while the inside of the cheese bubbled murkily – it was not good. Stick to having it on a cracker or baguette with a nice chutney and you’ll be sorted. Also available at Whole Foods.
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Happy Cashew organic smokey red, 100g: £7.65, Vegan Wholesaler
This is oddly textured – quite soft like a firmer, spiced ricotta – and unlike any actual cheese equivalent we’ve come across. That said, it is very enjoyable to eat. The smokey flavour is hot with paprika and doesn’t smell or taste synthetic like other smoked cheeses we’ve tried. This is one for a cheeseboard or for being spread into a baguette with lots of roasted veg. Expensive, but it tastes it. Also available at Whole Foods.
Follow Your Heart smoked gouda, 200g: £3.79, Ocado
We were super impressed with this one. It comes sliced, so it’s not one for a cheeseboard but is good in many other ways. Firstly, it’s one of the only vegan cheeses that smells like the real thing: no coconut starchy whiff. Our favourite way to eat this was as a vegan-style Reuben sandwich because the smokey Swiss flavour is just right with vegan mayo, mustard and sauerkraut – you can slightly melt it here if you like but, as with most of these, it’s best left alone.
New Roots Free the Goat ricotta alternative with thyme and lavender, 120g: £7.29, Whole Foods
This cheese is expensive, but worth it in spades. It’s a goat’s cheese-style product with a ricotta-like texture and would appease any vegans missing a lovely soft cheese. It comes in a beautiful Italian extra-virgin olive oil with fragrant herbs and feels super luxurious. Aside from that strong goaty smell that often comes with goat’s cheese, this vegan alternative is a strong duplicate to most of the good stuff. This is really delicious on a baguette, or crumbled on to a roasted vegetable pasta dish. It also melts well so is tasty toasted or baked into something indulgent and cheesy. We could eat this by the pot.
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The verdict: Vegan cheese
For versatility and flavour we’ve chosen the Violife creamy garlic and herb as our outright winner as it performed well in its cold and cooked states. If you’re after something special for your Christmas cheeseboard, we’d go for New Root’s ricotta alternative: it’s unctuous, sharp and very creamy just like you’d hope for. Happy munching.