Don’t be surprised to find at least one vegan alternative coming to a cheese board near you soon. According to San Francisco-based Grandview Research, the North American market for vegan cheese stands at $2.7 million today and is expected to grow to$4.6 million by 2027. Increasing acceptance of veganism, especially among millennials who really miss tucking into dairy cheeses, has fueled the market growth around the world thus far. But analysts say flexitarian consumers—folks who are looking to reduce their intake of meat and dairy products by replacing them with plant-based ones—are expected to be a key driver in the market going forward.
So, swapping out a classic Camembert on a cheese board with an artisanal, bloomy-rind round of cashew cheese is well within the realm of possibility, says Michaela Grob, owner of Riverdel, a vegan cheese shop located in the Essex Market in New York City.
“But people have to understand that artisanal vegan cheesemaking is not about creating exact replicas of popular dairy cheeses,” says Grob. “We use fermentation techniques and cultures used in traditional cheesemaking. But we do so to make slightly different—still delicious—products.”
The differences most obviously lie in the texture, says Yousseff Fakhouri, founder of Vromage, a vegan cheese shop in Los Angeles. A chef by training but not a vegan himself, Fakhouri started making vegan cheese in 2014 as a culinary challenge. “I wanted it to taste good and not have an off-putting texture like many of the commercial products on the market,” he says.
According to Fakhouri, even the most aged artisan vegan cheeses made today don’t have a texture harder than Havarti or a young Gouda. Unlike dairy cheeses that are best served at room temperature, vegan cheese maintains its intended texture only when served cold.
While soy-based cheeses are widely available in grocery stores and a few small batch cheesemakers are experimenting with oat milk as their primary ingredient, cashew-based cheeses make up the bulk of the artisanal vegan cheese market. But that is not to say your options are limited. There are literally hundreds of vegan cheeses made by small producers sold on-line and in small shops from New Haven, Connecticut to Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Austin, Texas. Here are six of the dozens we tasted and can point to as flavorful, innovative, dairy-free additions to a cheese board.
1. RIND CAMBLUE CLASSIC
Main Ingredients: cashews, tofu and coconut oil
An intense bleu mold rind, sometimes speckled with white, encases a yeasty, buttery body. Bleu (sometimes appearing green or black) veins sometimes appear and push a bit of piquancy into this rich, soft-ripened cheese. Roasted nuts are an appropriately sweet and crunchy foil.
2. VTOPIAN ARTISAN CHEESES BLACK GARLIC
Main Ingredients: cashews and coconut oil
+ LE BON MAGOT TOMATO & WHITE SULTANA CHUTNEY
This semi-firm wedge has a rind of activated charcoal that carries tones of earthy porcini mushrooms and funky black garlic. Acidic but sweet chutney is very complimentary.
3. RIVERDEL CHEESE PEPPER BILLY
New York, NY
Main Ingredients: cashews and black peppercorns
+ MARY’S GONE CRACKERS SEAWEED & BLACK SESAME CRACKERS
Since Billy goats don’t have milk either, Riverdel puts the word “Billy”into all the names of its chevre-like cheeses. This heavily peppered, light beige, tangy cheese is striking and delicious on a black cracker.
4. REBEL CHEESE CHEBRIE
Main Ingredient: cashews
+ SAUK FARM ORGANIC HONEYCRISP DRIED APPLES
This aged cheddar/brie combination has the distinct sharp taste and bright orange paste of a yellow cheddar. The white bloomy rind offers umami and earthy undertones. Tasting it with sweet, tangy, chewy dried apples rounds out the experience.
5. CONSCIOUS CULTURES CREAMERY MAVERICK
Main Ingredients: cashews and coconut cream
When vegan cheesemaker Steve Babaki introduced this cheese in the summer of 2019, he called it The Bloomy White, as it was just that. The Penicillium candidum mold typical of a dairy-based brie blooms around the Maverick’s a creamy, high-fat paste, the lightly salty, balanced flavor of which is offset by the slightly tangy rind. Heavily seeded crackers contribute to an interesting combination of textures.
6. TREE NUT CHEESE DR. COW AGED SMOKED CASHEW CHEESE
Main Ingredient: raw cashews
+ SEAWEED RICE CRACKERS
This blonde dome of raw, organic cashew cheese has Lapsang Souchong black tea laced through its middle and sprinkled on top. Aged for minimum of seven weeks, it has a firm texture and a smoky, flavor and fragrance. Serving it with seaweed rice crackers give a cultural nod to Fujian, the coastal Chinese region famous for its Lapsang Souchong and seaweed.