This vegan Parmesan cheese doesn’t melt like the real cheese, but it looks and tastes quite similar. It has a nutty, cheesy, and sharp savory flavor with a granular and slightly chewy texture. The recipe makes grated as well as grateable Parmesan, depending on the technique you use. It’s vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), and soy-free.
Cheese is one of the most sought after ingredients in the culinary realm. Different types of cheese are made from varying types of ingredients and methods, and they are used in thousands of different applications. Therefore, it’s important to understand what makes each type of cheese unique.
Since types of cheeses are listed by firmness, moisture level plays an important role in the selection process. Higher moisture content results in a softer cheese, while lower moisture content that is densely packed into cheese molds results in a harder cheese. Sometimes certain types of cheese are freshly made and eaten that day, other times cheeses are left to age for months – even years! The longer a cheese ages, the more complex the flavors become.
While this aging process happens, a hard coating forms around the cheese known as a rind. This rind becomes thicker as the cheese ages or is washed with brine, developing the flavor profile even further. Some types of cheese taste mild and buttery whereas some kinds of hard cheese have a sharp, nutty flavors.
Types of cheeses also differ from each other based on the type of milk used for the production of cheese. This doesn’t apply to just dairy-based cheeses, but also plant-based cheeses. There are now more vegan cheese options on the market than ever before – fresh, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, hard, and even blue-veined!
Types of Cheese
The lines between soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard are arbitrary, and many types of cheese are made in softer or firmer variants. However, since there are so many individual types of cheese, it’s useful to group them based on shared characteristics.
- Uncooked, unpressed, unripened
- High moisture content (60-80%) → liquid, smooth or creamy texture (meant for spreading).
- Common types of fresh cheese include Chèvre, cottage cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone, mozzarella, quark, ricotta, sour cream.
- Uncooked, unpressed, and ripened for up to one month.
- Thin, white or cream-colored rind (called bloomy rind) that is soft and edible and sometimes a little fuzzy.
- High moisture content (50-60%) → creamy and velvety texture (meant for slicing).
- Common types of soft cheese include Brie, Camembert, Coulommiers.
- Uncooked, lightly pressed, and ripened for 1 to 5 months.
- Tender rind that ranges anywhere from sticky and thin to coarse and leathery.
- Medium moisture content (45%-50%) → firmer, more compact texture (meant for slicing).
- Common types of semi-soft cheese include Havarti, Muenster (American), Provolone.
- Uncooked, pressed, and ripened for 1 to 6 months.
- Often rindless (as a result of aging in a vacuum-sealed plastic).
- Low moisture content (35%-45%) → firm, slightly springy texture (not soft enough to spread, but not hard enough to grate; meant for slicing or shredding)
- Common types of semi-firm cheese include Cantal, Cheddar, Edam, Emmenthal, Gouda, and Monterey Jack.
- Cooked, pressed, and ripened anywhere from 6 months to a few years.
- Hard, tough rind that naturally develops as the cheese ages.
- Low moisture content (30-35%) → firm, often granular or gritty texture (meant for thin slicing or grating).
- Common types of hard cheese include Gruyère, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Romano.
- Uncooked, unpressed, inoculated with a species of blue-green mold (Penicillium), and ripened anywhere from 2 months to a few years.
- Rindless (flavors that normally accumulate around the exterior can be found across the entire body).
- Moisture content varies → soft creamy or crumbly texture.
- Common types of blue-veined cheese include Fourme d’Ambert, Danish Blue, gorgonzola, Roquefort, and Stilton.
Believe it or not, most of these cheese are now available in a plant-based form.
Tips for Making Vegan Parmesan Cheese
To make vegan Parmesan cheese, you only need four simple ingredients:
- Cashews: raw cashews works so well in this recipe because they have a neutral, mild flavor. They are also tender and slightly chewy, which makes up for Parmesan’s similar qualities. If you’re nut-free, you can use a blend of sunflower seeds and hemp seeds instead. Another great addition are pine nuts, which have a buttery flavor and soft, chewy texture.
- Nutritional yeast: the key ingredient for adding cheesy flavor to vegan recipes is nutritional yeast. This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. Do not mistakenly use baker’s yeast (for leavening baked goods) or brewer’s yeast (for brewing beer) – they are not the same thing.
- Garlic powder: while optional, garlic powder offers some extra flavor complexity that helps to make up for all the subtle flavors found in real Parmesan.
- Salt: real Parmesan cheese is quite salty, so salt is an essential ingredient for this vegan version.
How to Make Vegan Parmesan cheese
As I already mentioned, you can use this recipe to make either grated or grateable Parmesan cheese. The difference lays in the way you process the ingredients.
- Process the cashews. Add the cashews into a food processor fitted with an S blade and process them into a coarse meal.
- Process the rest of the ingredients. Add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt and pulse until all the ingredients are well combined. Be careful not to over-process the ingredients if you want “grated” Parmesan. If you want grateable Parmesan cheese, keep processing until all the ingredients come together into a ball. Stop the food processor as soon as the ingredients come together otherwise the cashews will turn into nut butter.
- Shape the Parmesan (grateable Parmesan only). Using your hands, shape the Parmesan into a wheel (or any other shape you like).
- Chill. Place the Parmesan into the refrigerator and let it set for at least 8 hours. The time will depend on the shape (thickness) of the cheese.
How to Serve Vegan Parmesan cheese
You can use this Parmesan just like you would the dairy-based version – sprinkle it over pasta with marinara, add it into basil pesto, use it as a topping for mac & cheese, pizza, popcorn, or just about anything that needs a mild cheese flavor. It’s a great addition to many dishes.
However, if you’re baking the recipe, you might want to reserve the Parmesan for sprinkling until after it’s out of the oven for maximum flavor.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor (Breville Sous Chef)
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- 1 cup cashews *
- 4 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- pinch sea salt, to taste
Process the cashews. Add the cashews into a food processor fitted with an S blade and process them into a coarse meal.
Process the rest of the ingredients. Add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt and pulse until all the ingredients are well combined. Be careful not to over-process the ingredients if you want "grated" Parmesan. If you want grateable Parmesan cheese, keep processing until all the ingredients come together into a ball. Stop the food processor as soon as the ingredients come together otherwise the cashews will turn into nut butter.
Shape the Parmesan (grateable Parmesan only). Using your hands, shape the Parmesan into a wheel (or any other shape you like).
Chill (grateable Parmesan only). Place the Parmesan into the refrigerator and let it set for at least 8 hours. The time will depend on the shape (thickness) of the cheese.
Store. Leftover Parmesan keeps well in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
*Do not soak the cashews. If you soak them, the cashews will absorb water and become creamy when blended. You want the cashews to keep their nutty texture which makes for a more convincing Parmesan cheese.
**Nutrition information is approximate and may contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.