When I was diagnosed with cancer in my early 30’s, I made a lot of big transitions in my life – both mentally and physically. One of those was shifting towards a more plant-based diet. After doing lots of research, I came to the realization that, on average, humans eat way too much dairy and the negative side effects of it are immense. Consumption of dairy products has been linked to a higher risk of various cancers, a significantly higher concentration of fat cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet, and diabetes in infants, just to name a few.
After becoming more educated about the scary downsides of dairy consumption, I decided to remove all dairy from my diet. That meant no more (conventional) cheese, milk, yogurt or ice cream. I went through a period of trying to replace the cow-based products that I was used to with vegan versions. I quickly realized that just because the vegan versions were technically ‘plant-based,’ it didn’t necessarily make all of them healthier. I compared some of the most popular vegan cheese brands with dairy cheese brands and noticed that the nutrition facts were not wildly different. So I went on a hunt for the healthiest dairy-free cheese brands and compiled a list to share with all of my clients.
This is what I found:
Miyoko’s Kitchen is one of my favorite vegan cheese brands. Miyoko began developing her award-winning dairy-free cheeses when she realized that her compassion for animals conflicted with her love of cheese. She set out on a mission to create a delicious, healthy and ethically sound cheese. Her cheeses are gluten-free and made from organic ingredients. The main ingredients in Miyoko’s cheeses are nuts, coconut oil, cultures, and seasoning. Her products consist of Vegan Butter, Vegan Mozzarella (which is fantastic for baking healthy pizzas and caprese salads), Vegan Cream Cheese, various Vegan Cheese Spreads and Vegan Cheese Wheels. My absolute favorite Miyokos’s Kitchen Product is the Smoked Farmhouse Vegan Cheese Wheel. It is the perfect addition to any event you are hosting.
I love the brand Treeline Cheese for a number of different reasons. It is an environmentally conscious company that makes fully dairy-free probiotic cheeses (and if you know me, you know that I am obsessed with anything probiotic). All of the cheeses that Treeline offers are made mainly from Brazillian cashew nuts, probiotics and natural flavoring like herbs, garlic and more (so not the questionable kind of natural flavoring). Treeline Cheese’s Scallion French-Style Soft Cheese is to die for and the ingredient list is impressively clean. It consists of cashew nuts, filtered water, onion powder, sea salt, dried scallions, lemon juice, and L. Acidophilus.
Heidi Ho’s cheeses make me very happy because all of the ingredients are certified organic! The main ingredients in Heidi Ho products include hazelnuts, cashews, chia seeds and various spices. The Creamy Chia Cheeze is super yummy and it is made out of veggie puree (which is simply water, red potatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic), cashews, safflower oil, sea salt, lemon, chia seeds, citric acid, paprika, mustard seed, black pepper, and cayenne.
Kite Hill is getting to be more and more mainstream, which is exciting. The company is unique because it makes all their vegan products from almond milk, rather than cashews. The other main ingredients in Kite Hill products are salt, cultures, enzymes and herbs. One of my favorite Kite Hill products is the ricotta. It is made from almond milk (which is just water and almonds), salt, enzymes, tartaric acid, and cultures. You can add the ricotta to salads for a delicious little kick.
Another one of my favorite dairy-free cheese brands is Dr. Cow. All of their vegan cheeses are raw, organic and non-GMO – music to my ears! For the cheese base, Dr. Cow uses organic Indonesia cashew nuts, Brazil or Macadamia nuts. I have heard fabulous things about the Truffle Age Cashew Cheese. It consists of raw cashew nuts, acidophilus, white truffle salt, and their signature powder (made up of carrots, blue green algae, and beets).
Punk Rawk Labs is another go-to for me. The company is owned and operated by three women: a scientist turned raw chef, a record storeowner, and a nutritionist. I can totally relate to this brand because the founder, Alissa, started it after experiencing a health crisis of her own and had to change her diet. Punk Rawk Labs uses simple, organic ingredients like cashews, water, culture, and salt. The Cashew Original is so tasty and is made from organic cashews, water, culture, salt.
If you are looking for a more upscale vegan cheese, Vtopian Artisan Cheeses is for you. It consists of a line of cultured cashew cheeses that are handcrafted in Portland, Oregon. The main ingredients in Vtopian Artisan Cheese products are various nuts, coconut oil, and seasoning. The Aged White Cheddar is definitely one of their best. Their products are reviewed on their website, which I like to see because it is a nice indication that they are fully confident in what they create.
Last, but certainly not least, is a brand near and dear to my heart because it was born and raised here in LA: Blode Kuh. The company offers cream cheese style cultured spreads and dips, aged semi-soft wheels, YoGuts (cultured cashew yogurt), and chocolates. For anyone living in LA, I highly recommend snagging one of their Truffle Fluff cultured spreads from a local farmer’s markets. It is one of the best non-dairy treats I have ever tasted.
When shopping for vegan cheeses (or any foods, really) there are a handful of ingredients you should avoid at all costs. A good rule of thumb when deciding on a vegan cheese is to skip out on any products that include ingredients that are totally foreign to you or those that you cannot pronounce. Citric acid and natural flavorings are good indications that you may want to try a different brand. Ultimately, as with most products, the shorter the ingredient list, the better.
Happy (dairy-free) snacking!