The Best Simple Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes

Looking for a dairy-free alternative to Cheese? You’re in the right place! Keep reading for my favourite simple Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes so delicious you’d choose them even if cheese was something you could eat.

I’ve organized them into categories to make it easier to find the best substitute for the particular type cheese you have in mind.

The Best Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes – Soft Cheese

Here are the best substitutes for soft cheeses like ricotta, goat cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese and queso fresco. Perfect for plant-based diets when you want a vegan cheese and for pregnant ladies.

1. Macadamia Ricotta

When I was avoiding soft cheeses during my pregnancy, my Macadamia ‘Ricotta’ (recipe below) was a life saver. It looks surprisingly close to actual ricotta. And while the flavour doesn’t have the cheesy notes of soft cheese, it is pleasantly sweet and creamy. It works really well in most applications (apart from baked ricotta). I especially love it on toast with a drizzle of honey.

2. Cashew Cheese

This simple 2-ingredient sauce made from cashews and lemon juice can be an excellent plant-based soft cheese alternative. For a firmer texture you can make it with less water. And if you want to use it in sweet recipes, just cut back on the lemon juice. See my Cashew Sour Cream Recipe here. Adding some maple syrup or sugar to sweeten this cashew cheese will turn it into a delicious dairy-free cream cheese frosting.

3. Tofu + Salt

Firm tofu either grated or crumbled or pureed in the food processor can be a surprisingly good plant-based substitute for firmer style soft cheeses. Puree silken tofu for a creamy soft cheese alternative. Of course the flavor of tofu is super bland, so be generous with the salt. If you want to boost the cheesy flavours to get a closer match, add some nutritional yeast flakes. For a closer match to the tangy flavor of goats cheese add a squeeze of lemon juice.

4. Coconut Yogurt, Soy Yoghurt or Almond Yoghurt

All these dairy-free yogurts like soy yogurt will work as a soft cheese substitute – the texture will be runnier than most soft cheeses. For a closer match, try lining a sieve with kitchen paper and drain the yogurt for a few hours.

5. Hummus

This is a bit of an unusual idea but adding a big dollop of creamy hummus can add the substance and flavor hit you’d otherwise get from soft cheese. Works really well as an alternative to ricotta as a spread for toast or as a sauce component for pasta or lasagna. With the garlic, however it won’t be a good choice for desserts or sweet ricotta dishes.

6. Whipped Coconut Cream

Can work as an alternative to smooth ricotta in a tub but will be too soft and runny to work in firm ricotta applications.

7. Avocado

Chunks of avo will add creamy goodness and substance to your dish. But a completely different appearance. For an even closer match to tangy goat cheeses add in a squeeze of lemon or lime and some sea salt flakes or herbs.

8. Babaganoush

Works in a similar way to hummus.


dairy-free hard cheese substitutes

The Best Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes – Hard Cheese

These are the best dairy-free substitutes for hard cheeses like parmesan, pecorino or ricotta salata.

1. Brazil Nuts

Can be grated with a miroplane to make a dust that looks a lot like parmesan. I also make a sprinkle I call Brazil Nut ‘Parmesan’ which is delicious sprinkled on pasta dishes or any where you’d normally grate over some parmesan.

2. Nutritional Yeast Flakes

Aren’t as salty as parmesan but they do add a similar hit of deeply savoury umami flavours.

3. Olives

If you’re looking for a salty burst of flavour, a handful of olives is a good best dairy-free and vegan alternative to parmesan or other hard cheeses.

4. Sun Dried Tomatoes

A similar idea to olives, sun dried tomatoes are bursting with flavour and will add a little sweetness to your dish instead of a salt hit.

5. Salted Roast Almonds

For texture and salty hit roast almonds will take your dish in a different direction but it won’t be lacking in flavour or crunch. Excellent to use as a dairy-free alternative to parmesan in pesto. Other nuts like walnuts or macadamias will also work.

6. Sea Salt Flakes

Another option to replace the salty hit from parmesan is to sprinkle your dish with sea salt flakes. It won’t provide the same visuals or substance as greated or shaved cheese but you will appreciate the salty flavour explosions.

7. Capers

Work in a similar way to olives. Salted capers will be the best choice although capers in vinegar are better than nothing.

8. Toasted Breadcrumbs

In Italy toasted breadcrumbs – called ‘pan gratato’ are also known as poor mans Parmesan. They are great for adding crunch and visual interest when sprinkled over pasta.


Grilled Cheese Tofu

The Best Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes – Melting Cheese

While there are some commercial plant-based cheese options that are OK. It’s not the same as stringy melted mozzarella on a pizza or the oozy goodness of melted cheese on toast. And of course a fondue isn’t fondue without melted cheese.

So for dairy-free substitutes for Swiss cheese, Gruyere, fontina, emmental cheese, comte cheese, Jarslberg, raclette, edam or gouda I prefer to take my dish in a completely different direction.

1. Extra virgin olive oil.

A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can be a surprisingly satisfying substitute to your usual melted mozzarella on pizza. I’ve had a potato pizza in Italy that was simply adorned with sea salt, rosemary and lashings of olio. It was heavenly. And I didn’t miss the cheese even once.

2. Hummus

Creamy hummus can add the substance and moistness you’d otherwise get from melted cheese. Works really well as an alternative to grilled cheese on toast and will be passable as a toasted cheese sandwich filling. Rather than cooking pizza with cheese you can keep the toppings dairy-free then serve with a dollop of hummus when it comes out of the oven (just don’t tell your traditionalist Italian friends).

3. Dairy-Free Pesto

My Sicilian Nut Pesto recipe uses nuts instead of parmesan to add richness to this classic green sauce. This dairy-free sauce can be used to add flavour and moistness anywhere you’d normally want some melted cheese. Great on toast. Wonderful on pizza (drizzle on when it comes out of the oven). Great in pasta bakes. OF course the colour is completely different but you won’t be worried about that while your taste buds are experiencing the deliciousness.

4. Smashed Avocado

Smash your avocado into a paste and it will add creamy goodness and substance to your dish. But a completely different appearance and texture to melted cheese. For an even bigger flavour experience try my Amazing Avo Sauce.

5. Babaganoush

Works in a similar way to hummus.

6. Tahini

A drizzle of tahini (sesame seed paste) will give the creaminess of melted cheese. Although the texture won’t be the same. Another option is to make a tahini sauce with equal parts lemon juice, water and tahini. This works in a similar manner to hummus.

7. Almond Butter, Cashew Butter or Peanut Butter.

Similar idea to tahini. Each of these can be also used to make a nut butter sauce with equal parts water and lemon juice.


The Best Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes – Cheese Sauces

For pasta bakes or dishes like Lasagna that traditionally use a bechamel or cheese sauce here are the best dairy-free substitutes.

1. Whipped tofu

Puree silken or firm tofu in a food processor to create an oozy sauce. For extra cheesy flavor adding some onion power and nutritional yeast flakes will help. And don’t forget the salt.

2. Dairy-Free Pesto

As I mentioned above, my Sicilian Nut Pesto recipe

3. Hummus

Creamy hummus can add the substance and moistness you’d otherwise get from cheese sauce.

4. Tahini

Mix Tahini (sesame seed paste) with and equal amount of water and a little salt until you have a creamy sauce about the similar consistency of bechamel. Keep adding water until you’re happy with the viscosity. It will go grainy and split at first but keep stirring and it will come back to a lovely creamy texture.

5. Almond Butter, Cashew Butter or Peanut Butter.

Similar idea to tahini above. Each of these can be also used to make a nut butter sauce with equal parts water.


More Specific Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes

Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.

Have fun in the kitchen!

With love,
Jules x