Cheese is a popular food choice in many cultures with its melt-in-your-mouth texture, rich umami flavors, and endless versatility. However, the cheese question remains complex and often debated by individuals embracing a vegan lifestyle. Do vegans eat cheese? As with many things in life, the answer isn’t black and white.
Understanding the Core Values of Veganism
At its heart, veganism transcends mere dietary restrictions. It’s a philosophy embracing a plant-based lifestyle that minimizes animal exploitation and cruelty. Vegans avoid not just meat and poultry but all animal products and byproducts, including eggs, honey, and dairy. This extends to cheese, regardless of its type or production methods.
Why Cheese Doesn’t Make the Cut
The exclusion of cheese from vegan diets stems from several key concerns:
- Animal Exploitation: Cheese production inherently involves exploiting dairy cows. From forced insemination and separation of calves to milking practices, the dairy industry raises ethical concerns for many vegans.
- Animal Byproducts: Cheese is concentrated milk containing all the fats, proteins, and other components derived from a cow’s body. Even seemingly “cruelty-free” milk sourced from happy cows, as some labels claim, still involves using animals for their bodily fluids.
- Environmental Impact: The dairy industry has a significant environmental footprint, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and deforestation. Choosing cheese, even from supposedly sustainable sources.
While most vegans abstain from cheese due to these ethical and environmental concerns, there are nuances within the philosophy that deserve consideration:
- Personal Interpretations: Some vegans might prioritize animal welfare above all else, potentially deeming certain “cruelty-free” cheeses acceptable. Others might focus on environmental impact, ruling out all dairy due to its footprint.
- Cultural Considerations: Veganism manifests differently across cultures and contexts. For some, adhering to traditional family diets or celebrating cultural foods might involve occasional cheese consumption, even if they generally follow a plant-based lifestyle.
- Transitional Phases: Individuals transitioning to veganism might incorporate cheese for a period while adjusting to the dietary shift. Over time, as their values solidify, they might eliminate it.
The excellent news for cheese-craving vegans is that the plant-based food revolution has come to the rescue! Various innovative and delicious vegan cheese alternatives exist, offering textures, flavors, and melt-ability that rival their dairy counterparts. Some popular options include:
- Nut-based cheeses: Made from cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts, these cheeses offer creamy textures and rich savory flavors.
- Soy-based cheeses: Featuring similar textures to traditional cheeses, soy-based options provide a familiar experience for vegan cheese lovers.
- Coconut-based cheeses: Light and refreshing, coconut-based cheeses are perfect for adding a tropical twist to dishes.
- Cultured cashew and nutritional yeast cheeses: These fermented varieties offer complex, tangy flavors reminiscent of aged cheeses.
How Vegan Cheese is Made
While the basic idea of cheese remains – creating a solid, flavorful product from fermented milk – vegan cheese uses entirely plant-based alternatives to achieve its deliciousness.
- Most base ingredients are soaked in water or plant-based milk to soften and release their starches and flavors.
- Once softened, they blend into a smooth paste, often resembling a thick cashew ricotta.
- Some brands opt for a fermentation process using cultures similar to those used in dairy cheese. This introduces lactic acid bacteria that contribute to the tanginess and complexity of flavor.
- Fermentation length varies depending on the desired tang and aged character of the final chees
- Sea salt, spices, herbs, and even smoke flavors are added to create various cheese styles, from cheddar and mozzarella to gouda and parmesan.
- For additional depth, some brands use natural flavorings like truffle oil or nutritional yeast.
- Depending on the desired texture, the cheese mixture might be heated, molded into blocks or slices, or spreadable forms.
- Some types require aging for further development of texture and flavor.
The Best Vegan Cheese Brands
If you are looking for the best cheese for vegans, the following brands are favorited by those following a plant-based diet:
- Treeline Cheese: Their cashew-based cheeses are aged for depth of flavor and come in cheddar, gouda, and parmesan varieties. Ideal for grating and crumble
- Follow Your Heart: Provides a wide range of cheese products, including sharp cheddar slices and wedges with satisfyingly tangy flavor.
- Violife: Their aged cheddar slices and parmesan wedges offer a bold, mature taste comparable to dairy cheese.
- Kite Hill: Their cream cheese alternatives are smooth, tangy, and perfect for bagels or crackers. Their ricotta and Boursin-style cheeses are also excellent.
- Chao Creamery: Offers plant-based cheese slices and blocks that melt beautifully for burgers, pizzas, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
- MozzaRisella: This newer brand uses chickpea flour for a stretchy and gooey mozzarella-like cheese perfect for pizzas and pasta.
- Field Roast Happy Planet Chao: Another brand under Field Roast, their Chao Shreds and Slices melt well and come in several flavors, including smoked and spicy.
The Choice is Yours
Ultimately, the question of whether or not vegans eat cheese is a personal one, grounded in individual values and dietary choices. While the core principles of veganism advocate avoiding animal products, there’s room for nuance and interpretation. For those embracing this plant-based approach, the abundance of delicious cheese alternatives ensures they can still enjoy all the culinary creativity and satisfaction without compromising their ethical and environmental convictions.