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Vegan cheese

Ethical and environmental rankings of 18 vegan cheese brands.

We look at non-vegan companies making vegan cheese, ethical and environmental issues of the key ingredients of vegan cheese, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Violife's owner KKR and give our Best Buy recommendations.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying vegan cheese:

  • Is it owned by a vegan company? Now’s the time to support innovative companies that only sell plant-based products.

  • Is it a local, independent company? Finding your local vegan cheesemaker is the best way to support local businesses and avoid the carbon costs of ordering online.

  • Has it got a transparent ingredients list? It’s easy to avoid palm oil and other contentious ingredients if you pick a product that is well-labelled and has an easy-to-understand ingredients list.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying vegan cheese:

  • Is it owned by a meat or dairy company? If you want to avoid fuelling dairy companies’ revenues, make sure you’re not accidentally buying from one.

  • Does it use palm oil? It’s uncommon for plant-based cheese brands to use palm oil, but some do. While certifications provide some reassurance that palm is sourced sustainably, avoiding it altogether eliminates the risk.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

In comedian Simon Amstell’s vegan mockumentary ‘Carnage’, a support group of people name cheeses they once ate in an effort to let go of shame they feel about having done so. “Brie!” one confesses. “Edam!” another collapses into tears.

People rarely switch to vegan cheese because it tastes better. It’s an ethical decision, asking dairy cheese to moo-ve aside for the benefit of other species and the planet.

Fortunately, plant-based alternatives, from humble cheddar to crumbly feta, even creamy mozzarella, have stepped up to make this transition easier – they’re gonna Roquefort your world!

This guide covers the major vegan cheese brands available in the UK. Since the last guide we removed the brands Happy Cashew and Tofutti because it appears they are no longer easy to find in the UK. We have not included supermarket own-brand vegan cheeses in this guide because they tend to score poorly in our ethical ratings. We also outline where you can buy the different vegan cheese brands.

Three reasons to cut out (or cut down on) dairy cheese

1. To help out the planet

Due to a lack of good studies and variations in production methods, it is difficult to give exact figures, but saying plant-based cheese is ten times better for the climate than dairy cheese probably isn’t a wild exaggeration.

While the production of one kilogram of dairy cheese creates 18 kg CO2e, the ingredients commonly used in plant-based cheeses are way less carbon intensive to produce (coconut 2.1 kg CO2e, tree nuts like almond and cashew 2 kg CO2e, soya beans 2 kg CO2e, potato 0.4 kg CO2e).

Our article comparing the climate impacts of dairy and plant products has more detail.

2. To protect rainforests

Valuable habitats like forests, grasslands and savannahs are being converted into land for soya production. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock.

It says that 24g of soya is used to produce 100g of dairy cheese. So, perhaps surprisingly, if everyone stopped eating dairy cheese and switched to plant-based alternatives then overall soya production would likely plummet. Cathedral City (owned by Saputo) is one example of a dairy cheese company that’s been linked to deforestation in Brazil.

3. To stop funding animal suffering

All dairy products come from mothers that either just had a baby or are milked while pregnant. Animals can’t give consent to the cycle of forced impregnation, separation from their offspring, and endless milking that are integral to dairy production. Dairy animals are virtually always killed when their milk production slows down even though they are still young.

Animal sentience recognised in UK law

One positive thing we lost to Brexit was the EU law which recognised that animals are sentient – meaning capable of experiencing feelings and sensations, like joy and pain.

Fortunately, a new UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act was announced in 2021. This has brought animal sentience to the discussion table in UK government which is significant in itself. In concrete terms, this legislation aims to ensure that policymakers take into account the fact that animals are sentient when introducing policy changes that relate to animal welfare.

All vegan cheeses are vegan, but some are more vegan than others…

Every brand in this guide is vegan. But some are owned by fully vegan companies, while others are owned by companies involved in factory farming, animal slaughter, and animal testing.

The most vegan of all the vegan cheeses

The following brands have a spotless record under our Animal Rights, Factory Farming and Animal Testing categories:

The least vegan of all the vegan cheeses

Applewood, Ilchester and Mexicana are owned by dairy company Norseland, which is owned by Norway’s largest producer of dairy products TINE SA. It appears to have no meaningful welfare policies at all.

Sheese and Vitalite are owned by dairy giant Saputo (see below for more information).

Violife’s immediate parent company Upfield is transitioning towards a plant-based product range, but still uses a lot of dairy for its brands like Elmlea cream. Violife lost half a mark under the Animal Testing category because its ultimate parent company (private equity company KKR) has investments in biopharmaceuticals companies, which are required to use animal testing to demonstrate the safety of products.
 
In February 2021 it was announced that plant-based brand Follow Your Heart had been bought by Danone, which tests on animals “to ensure the safety and efficacy of new products”. Danone also claims it is “committed to avoid and will be phasing out close confinement and permanent tethering systems for all farm animals, including cages, crates or tie stalls,” which appears to mean it is still involved in these cruel practices.

MozzaRisella is owned by dairy company Frescolat SRL. It says its cow and goat milk is fully traceable and that it “collaborates exclusively with local stables”, but didn’t provide any extra information about what actual animal welfare measures are expected.

Nurishh is owned by The Bel Group – you guessed it, owner of the Babybel brand. The Group states that, in 2019, it developed an Animal Welfare Charter with Compassion in World Farming, which it wants all of its farmers to be compliant with by 2025. At the time of writing, 90% of the milk used to make its products came from cows with access to pasture, though it’s unclear for how many days of the year.

Case study: Vegan cheese pioneer Sheese, sold to dairy giant Saputo

This story starts on a remote Scottish island – the Isle of Bute. In 1988, its soya-based cheese alternative (then named ‘Scheese’) was born. It spread to indie health food shops, before rolling into success across the UK, until it began manufacturing for all the major supermarkets and sitting on top of Papa John’s pizza.

And in 2020 we recommended it in our guide to vegan cheese. But all of this wasn’t enough. In June 2021, Sheese, which had always been an independent fully vegan company, was sold to dairy giant Saputo for £109 million.

Despite manufacturing dairy butters, spreads, cheeses and whey products Saputo lacks adequate animal welfare policies, so scores Ethical Consumer’s worst ratings in our Animal Rights and Factory Farming categories.

Saputo’s approach to pollution, tax, and executive pay

Saputo’s UK subsidiary admitted to 21 pollution incidents and permit breaches since 2016 at its creamery in Cornwall. Local residents say they were forced to endure “horrendous smells” which left them with headaches and vision problems. It was also alleged that fish were killed due to the “sludge” pollution, in the River Inny which is home to native wild brown trout among other species.

Saputo also has holding companies in Luxembourg, so was marked down in our Tax Conduct rating. It paid its top executive over $6 million in 2021.

Is Sheese veganwashing?
What is veganwashing? Well, despite what you might think, it has nothing to do with washing vegans.

Veganwashing could be defined as a company promoting itself as compassionate towards animals when its actions are actually causing animal suffering.

Does publishing posts on its website about veganism and compassion for animals, while adding to the bottom line of a mega dairy giant, fit this description?

We invited Sheese for an interview, but it declined, stating

“Joining Saputo allows us to bring our products to new markets, enabling more people to live dairy-free, should they wish."

Cartoon: One person says 'We're now the biggest manufacturer of vegan cheese in the UK'. Behind three people stand in front of a cow, and say 'hide the cow'
Cartoon (C) ECRA by Mike Bryson

What is vegan cheese made of?

Common ingredients in vegan cheese are almonds, cashew, coconut, macadamias and soya, but many mass-produced vegan cheeses contain added ingredients.

Research suggests that strikingly long ingredients lists, and high oil content, of some vegan cheeses could be putting people off buying it.

Ingredients in artisan and small companies’ vegan cheese

Many smaller brands use very few ingredients.

New Roots’ ricotta and camembert alternatives, for example, contain only organic cashew nuts, water, Himalayan salt, and cultures. A machine is used to make the cashew milk, and all remaining steps needed to make the cheese are done by hand. The company’s camembert is fermented and ripened for 3 to 4 weeks following traditional camembert-making methods.

Mouse’s Favourite Camembert contains only organic cashews, water, salt, and cultures. La Fauxmagerie’s blue cheese contains coconut oil, almonds, tapioca flour, nutritional yeast, salt, and cultures.

Ingredients in mass-produced vegan cheese

The general rule seems to be the bigger the brand, the longer the ingredients list.

Violife’s mature cheddar contains 11 ingredients, most of which are recognisable, but it also contains ‘Mature Cheddar Flavour’ (not sure what that is!).

Sheese contained 14 ingredients such as coconut oil and oat fibre, as well as tricalcium citrate and colouring.

Koko’s vegan cheese contained 15 ingredients, including stabilisers, humectant, calcium phosphates, maltodextrin, preservatives, dextrose … and other things difficult to identify in a line-up.

None of the big brands published detailed information about the manufacturing process of their vegan cheeses.

Nut-free vegan cheese

Most vegan cheese contains nuts, with some made primarily from coconut (which can be classed as nut, fruit or drupe). In this guide Cheezly, Green Vie, Koko, and MozzaRisella are the highest-scoring brands that sell nut-free cheese.

What are vegan cheese cultures?

Just as some dairy cheese is fermented, so are some vegan cheeses. Cultures, which are different strains of bacteria combined together, are used to enable the fermentation process. This ripens the cheese, which can help preserve, texture, or impart flavour.

Some websites (such as satsumapips.co.uk) retail vegan culture starter kits. One example is a vegan strain of penicillium camemberti – the bacteria used to make the characteristic white mould you find on cheeses like camembert and brie.

For more information on meeting nutritional needs if you are switching to a wholly vegan diet, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, see the NHS advice page.

Cartoon: Table with two vegan cheeses on it. One person says 'Two brie or not two brie'.
(C) Alex Crumbie

Is there palm oil in vegan cheese?

Most brands scored a best rating for Palm Oil in this guide, meaning the company that owns them either does not use palm oil or derivatives, or is clearly taking steps to ensure the palm oil it uses is traceable.

Brands that have a policy against using palm oil:

  • Green Vie
  • Mouse's Favourite
  • New Roots

Brands that do not appear to use any palm oil:

  • Applewood
  • Ilchester
  • La Fauxmagerie
  • Mexicana
  • MozzaRisella
  • Nurishh
  • Nush
  • Tyne Chease
  • Violife (owner Upfield uses certified palm elsewhere)

Brands that use ‘sustainable’ palm:

  • VBites (Cheezly)
  • Follow Your Heart

Palm-free brands owned by a company that uses unsustainable palm:

  • Sheese, Cathedral City, Vitalite (Saputo)
  • Pure (Kerry Group)

Brands that use palm oil without any sustainability initiatives:

  • Koko

Cashews, coconuts and workers' rights

Cashew nuts are originally encased in a shell. If the shells are split by hand without protection, the acids that are found in between the shell and the nut can burn the skin, leading to severe pain and even permanent damage.

West Africa is the largest producer of cashew, followed by India. For many workers burns are a part of life. Best Buys in this guide all use organic cashews and scored our best ratings for Supply Chain Management, which is considered to provide some mitigation against this risk.

Coconuts are usually produced on small-scale farms in Indonesia, India and the Philippines. Coconut farmers have historically been paid wages little over a dollar a day, which are said to be getting even lower as palm oil muscles in, reducing demand for coconut oil.

Cashew nut growing on tree
Cashew nut growing (Image from Pixabay)

How much does vegan cheese cost?

Vegan cheese does tend to be a bit more expensive than dairy. However, dairy cheese produced by more ethical companies is the most expensive of all cheeses on the market.

Cost of dairy cheddar vs vegan block/cheddar

We searched the websites of major supermarkets, ethical online retailers, and independent cheese shops to get an indication of how much different brands of cheddar sell for. Calon Wen and Daylesford were the highest scoring brands in our guide to cow’s milk that sell cheddar.

Cost of dairy cheddar and vegan block/cheddar (vg = vegan)
Brand £/kg
Asda own-brand dairy £4.67
Pilgrim’s Choice £7.14
Cathedral City £7.27
Violife (vg) £10.50
Asda own-brand vegan £11.00
Cheezly (vg) £11.50
Koko (vg) £11.50
Calon Wen organic dairy £11.50
Green Vie (vg) £13.00
Daylesford Organic Cheddar £30.00
The Ethical Dairy £30.00

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Where can I buy vegan cheese?

All of the vegan cheese brands in this guide are available online and with some local stockists.

The following brands are commonly available at supermarkets, or places like Holland & Barrett and local retailers: Applewood, Cheezly, Follow Your Heart, Mexicana, Nurishh, Sheese, Violife, Vitalite.

Buying vegan cheese in supermarkets

We have not included supermarket own-brand vegan cheese in this new guide. When we published the guide to supermarkets in December 2021, the following scores were given to supermarkets that sell own-brand vegan cheese: Waitrose (4.5), M&S (3), Asda (2.5), Sainsbury’s (0), Morrisons (3), Tesco (0).

Who makes supermarket own-brand cheese?

Supermarkets aren’t that transparent about who makes their own-brand vegan cheeses but, according to the Sheese website, it is manufacturing supermarket own-brand products for Morrisons, Tesco and Asda.

Cartoon: Man sayd 'we'd like to buy your company'. Vegan company person says 'If you did, then we'd expect you to buy into our ethics'. The man says 'Sure thing, profits, I mean ethics, are what we're all about'.
(C) ECRA by Andy Vine

Vegan cheese brands by type and cost

In the table below we list the vegan cheese brands in the guide and what types of vegan cheese they make e.g. blue, spread, and also the price of the least expensive and most expensive cheeses they make.

Types of vegan cheese and typical costs
Brand Types of vegan cheese Least expensive Most expensive
Applewood Block / cheddar, Grated, Slices £2.25 (slices) £2.75 (grated)
Cheezly Block / cheddar £2.19 (block) £2.24 (block)
Follow Your Heart Block / cheddar, Blue, Feta, Gouda, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Slices £3.29 (slices) £4.69 (parmesan)
Green Vie Block / cheddar, Blue, Spread, Feta, Gouda, Grated, Halloumi, Mozzarella, Slices £2.49 (mozzarella slices) £4.49 (parmesan)
Ilchester Block / cheddar, Blue £2.30 (block) £3 (blue)
Koko Block / cheddar £2.30 (block) £2.30 (block)
La Fauxmagerie Artisan, Block / cheddar, Blue, Camembert, Spread, Feta, Goat, Grated, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Ricotta £4.50 (block) £6 (camembert)
Mexicana Block / cheddar £2.30 (block) £2.30 (block)
Mouse's Favourite Artisan, Blue, Camembert, £8.25 (artisan) £9.99 (blue)
Mozzarisella Blue, Spread, Mozzarella, Slices £2.35 (slices) £4.50 (mozzarella)
New Roots Camembert, Spread, Fondue, Ricotta £2.99 (spread) £6.49 (ricotta)
Nurishh Block / cheddar, Camembert, Spread, Grated, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Slices £2.50 (slices) £3.50 (camembert)
Nush Spread £2.75 (spread) £2.75 (spread)
Sheese Block / cheddar, Blue, Spread, Feta, Gouda, Grated, Mozzarella, Slices £2.25 (block) £2.50 (mozzarella)
Tyne Chease Artisan, Block / cheddar, Camembert, Spread, £7.95 (artisan) £10 (artisan)
Violife Block / cheddar, Camembert, Spread, Feta, Grated, Halloumi, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Slices £2.30 (block) £2.75 (feta)
Vitalite Block / cheddar, Grated, Slices £2.30 (block) £2.99 (block)

What are vegan cheese brands doing about the environment and other ethical issues?

Only three companies scored a best rating for Supply Chain Management: New Roots, Mouse's Favourite, and Tyne Chease. The rest all scored worst ratings. While vegan cheese companies are taking responsibility when it comes to animal rights, we need to see more attention paid to workers’ rights! This is especially important as many brands use ingredients such as cashews, which are often produced in countries with poor labour rights.

New Roots was the only company to receive a best rating for its approach to Climate Change. Even though the production of plant-based cheese produces fewer emissions than dairy, we expect all companies to be taking reasonable steps to minimise their climate impact.

Only four brands lost a whole mark for Tax Conduct: Follow Your Heart, Sheese and Vitalite (both Saputo Dairy UK) and Violife.

Half of the brands in this guide are owned by companies that scored our worst rating for Animal Rights.

Three easy steps for reducing or giving up dairy cheese

1. Put a picture of the reason why you’re doing it on your fridge

This could be for example a photo of a lovely goat’s face or a drawing of the earth not descending into climate doom.

2. Throw a vegan cheese party (perhaps call it a rendez-fondue)

This is an affordable way to try a broad range of cheeses and find which one tastes best to you. Plus, you’ll have people there to support you after sampling ones that weren't to your palate! Ask guests to bring one or two cheeses each (being careful not to get duplicates).

If you can’t throw a party, another way to sample a range of vegan cheeses is to head to a vegan festival. Vegans Events UK is running the following, but there are often smaller local ones happening too:

  • Nottingham – 6th August 2022
  • Bournemouth – 3rd September 2022
  • Glasgow – 8th October 2022
  • Leeds – 6th November 2022
  • Manchester – 20th November 2022
  • Bath – 26th November 2022

3. Find out what else satisfies your cravings

Some people find that other foods satisfy them enough for dairy cheese cravings to pass. We asked our subscribers what other alternatives they turned to when the cravings for dairy cheese struck. Here are some of the responses:

  • Hummus
  • Tahini
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Pesto
  • Creamed cashews
  • Pistachios
  • White miso
  • Tofu
  • Nut butter
  • Soya yoghurt

Vegan cheese recipe

250 g cashews
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Juice 1 lemon
A few chopped chives

1. Soak cashews in a large bowl of water overnight (or for at least 4 hours).
2. Drain and rinse cashews, blend in a food processor with nutritional yeast, lemon juice, ½ tsp salt and 1 tbsp water. Whizz until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
3. Place in a bowl, stir chives through, then cover and place in fridge for one hour to firm up a little.

(Source of recipe)

Vegan cheese packaging and Terracycle

The plastic film covering cheese is infamously tricky to recycle. Saputo teamed up with recycling company TerraCycle to make it possible for cheese packaging (from any brand) to be recycled through a free programme.

However, this isn’t always easy to do – you have to search the TerraCycle website for your nearest cheese recycling Drop-Off Point, and then might have to drive a significant distance if there’s not one nearby.

Buying from local companies that wrap cheeses in more sustainable materials, such as greaseproof paper, is the best option when it comes to cheese packaging.

How ethical are Marigold's Engevita Nutritional Yeast Flakes?

It’s not a vegan cheese, but countless vegans use Marigold’s Engevita nutritional yeast flakes because it tastes a bit cheesy and nutty (and contains B12 which is hard to get in a plant-based diet). Small UK company Marigold manufactures and sells perhaps the most recognisable yeast flakes on the market today. Marigold is a vegan company and scored our best rating for Environmental Reporting, Palm Oil, and Animal Rights.

Engevita is a specific brand of nutritional yeast. Multinational company Lallemand owns the ‘Engevita’ trademark, and Marigold has a licensing arrangement with Lallemand which makes it the only company able to manufacture Engevita products in the UK. We therefore consider Marigold’s Engevita yeast flakes to be owned 50/50 by Marigold and Lallemand.

Lallemand appeared to actively test on animals, stating that it had a “Strong collaboration network with research partners to conduct efficacy trials in all livestock species” and discussed “ex vivo and in vivo studies”. Lallemand also listed one of its research centres as focusing on "Development and testing of new bio-pesticides on live insect models". It is a major supplier of feed to the animal slaughter industry.

Marigold's yeast flakes have an ethiscore of 10.

Can vegan cheese be called cheese?

Legally, we’re not supposed to call vegan cheese, ‘cheese’ – UK regulations say the term can only be used to describe products derived from animals.

Sainsbury’s decision to break the mould in 2016 by becoming the first major supermarket to offer own-brand vegan cheese prompted a Facebook rant which is now a potent piece of vegan cheese’s cultural history.

In a post that’s too long for this page, a fuming defender of dairy cheese argued: “If you’re going to be a vegan don’t call your vegan cheese BECAUSE IT’S NOT CHEESE!!!!! …CHEESE IS NOT MADE WITH COCONUTS. Call it Gary or something don’t call it Cheese because IT’S NOT CHEESE!!!!!!”

Needless to say, many vegans found great satisfaction in adopting the name Gary.

Is it good or bad that vegan brands are being bought up by big business?

As people following plant-based diets can halve their carbon footprint in contrast to meat eaters, we don’t want to advise people to boycott any companies that are making it possible to make the switch if they can’t access other more ethical alternatives.

However, if you want your spending to have most impact, it makes more sense to give your money to companies that you know are not going to reinvest it in activities that cause harm to animals or the planet, if you are able to easily access the more ethical options.

Company behind the brand

Violife is probably the most widely available vegan cheese. While its immediate parent company Upfield is transitioning towards plant-based products, its ultimate owner is KKR, a huge, US-based private equity firm which has its fingers in all sorts of unsavoury pies.

KKR was criticised in 2019 for providing financial services to a “producer of tear gas, anti-riot bullets and other crowd-control gear” which had been used against demonstrators in Puerto Rico, Turkey and the US.

KKR also has quite literally hundreds of subsidiaries in tax havens, from the Cayman Islands to Bermuda, Singapore and Hong Kong.

While it’s stingy on paying tax, it’s happy to fork out for directors – its highest paid director received £455 million in 2021.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the score table. 

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