I get it, cheese is difficult to give up even when you are severely lactose intolerant like me. The good news is that vegan cheese products have advanced and are more popular than ever. Whether you have an allergy or want to decrease your dairy intake or carbon footprint, a dairy-free cheese alternative can satisfy a cheesy meal craving.
Alternative cheeses are often pricey or difficult to find, but worry not. Trader Joe’s, the reliable and affordable grocery store, has a varied selection of vegan cheeses that won’t break the bank. The real question is: do they actually compete with the ever-growing selection of vegan cheeses on the market? I decided to find out.
I purchased a selection of six dairy-free cheese alternatives at Trader Joe’s consisting of two hard cheeses, two soft cheeses, and two cheese spreads. I tried them all so I can tell which ones are best and which ones to skip. Spoiler alert: my all time favorite graces this list!
For my testing methodology I tasted each cheese in its uncooked state and used it in at least two recipes, raw and cooked. If cooked, I took note of the cheese’s meltability. Finally, I tasted each dish, comparing the different applications for each cheese. In the end, I rated the products on a scale from 1 to 5, 5 being the best.
Trader Joe's Vegan Feta
Taste Test: Similar to cow’s milk feta, this vegan feta is a block sitting in brine. It’s made of coconut oil, potato starch, and potato protein. The smell of fermentation was strong as soon as I opened the package. I could also detect the smell of plastic coming from the cheese that continued to linger in my mouth.
- Uncooked: I used the vegan cheese on a Greek salad, crumbled on top of cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, romaine lettuce and vinaigrette.
- Cooked: I baked this feta alternative with tomatoes, onions, and plenty of olive oil, then blended it into a sauce I used over pasta. The rich savory flavor of the feta came through, elevating the pasta dish.
Salty and slightly tangy, the flavor of this vegan feta strives to be like its dairy counterpart. In its uncooked state, the cheese added a strong fermented flavor and a creamy texture to the Greek salad. Worth buying if the plan is to incorporate it into pasta, where the rich savoriness of the feta came through. Baking it with vegetables is also a great option.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
Trader Joe's Cheddar Style Slices
Taste Test: This cheese smells and tastes sweet. Uncooked, it does not taste like cheese and has a very grainy texture. The sweetness comes from its two main ingredients, cashews and coconut oil. Though this cheese also uses potato starch and nutritional yeast, neither comes through to balance the flavor
- Uncooked: taste test from above
- Cooked: I made two recipes: a grilled cheese and a burger. I put two slices of the cheese between two pieces of vegan buttered sourdough bread. I griddled it until brown and the cheese melted. I added one slice of cheese to a beef burger while still in the pan to melt then added it to a toasted bun with tomatoes, lettuce, and caramelized onions. The grilled cheese was decent, at best. Though there was no cheese pull, the texture was much better once melted and the vegan butter added needed saltiness. On the burger, the cheese melted quickly but it did not add any cheese flavor to the burger.
This vegan cheddar is overly sweet, grainy, and tastes like coconut. It does melt well, however. It can be used for a grilled cheese or a burger but the grilled cheese was decent, at best. There was no cheese pull, but the texture was much better once melted and the vegan butter added needed saltiness. On the burger, the vegan cheddar did not add any cheese flavor.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5
Trader Joe's Vegan Cream Cheese
Taste test: The texture of this product is smooth, reminiscent of milk cream cheese, though with none of the signature cream cheese tang. The taste of coconut overwhelms the other ingredients of potato starch, chickpea protein, yeast extract, and citric acid.
- Uncooked: I spread this on a whole wheat everything bagel, toasted.
- Cooked: I followed a traditional spinach artichoke dip recipe, using vegan dairy alternative ingredients with the exception of sour cream.
While it was better than a plain bagel, I wouldn’t find myself reaching for this product in the mornings. The spinach artichoke dip had a thick creamy texture, mostly from the cream cheese alternative and miraculously had a cheese pull. It was one of those rare dishes that could (almost) compare with its dairy counterpart. This cream cheese is perfect for a cooked application when used in conjunction with other sharp nutty vegan cheeses.
RATING: 3 out of 5
Trader Joe's Dairy Free Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Taste test: These thin Parmesan shreds made of potato starch, coconut oil, and yeast extract had a pleasant texture out of the package. Its cheesy taste comes through with a mildly nutty and yeasty flavor.
- Uncooked: I added this cheese to a hearty lunch salad with lettuce, arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grilled chicken, avocado, and a garlic aioli. The flavors are surprisingly reminiscent of cow’s milk Parmesan and the thin slices pair well with the other vegetables.
- Cooked: I made a simple garlic spaghetti and finished it with lots of vegan Parmesan cheese, allowing some to melt into the pasta and others sit on top.
This vegan Parmesan is tasty, versatile, and surprisingly reminiscent of cow’s milk Parmesan. The thin slices paired well with other vegetables in the chicken salad. I had to add a lot of Parmesan shreds to the pasta but in the end, the vegan cheese enhanced the noodles with a yeasty flavor. Get this product to add a nutty flavor to both uncooked and cooked dishes such as salads, dips, and pastas.
RATING: 4 out of 5
Trader Joe's Dairy Free Mozzarella Style Shreds
Taste test: The mozzarella shreds are thick and slightly chalky. They have a nutty flavor with a hint of sweetness. This product is primarily made of cashews and coconut oil, as well as yeast extract and cultures.
- Uncooked: taste test from above.
- Cooked: I used the mozzarella alternative for a quesadilla with flour tortilla, chicken, salsa, and guac on the side. I also made a homemade pizza, which I topped with this cheese, as well as tomato sauce, Beyond meat crumbles, basil, and arugula. Lastly, I tried this cheese in a pasta with red sauce.
This vegan mozzarella has amazing meltability and a strong earthy cheese flavor that bloomed with melted, making it an MVP whenever melted cheese is needed. Its taste and smooth, creamy texture was vital in the quesadilla and the pizza. In the pasta, the mozzarella alternative added a wonderful depth of flavor. Try it in a classic lasagna as a quick and easy replacement for milk cheese.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
Boursin Dairy-Free Cheese Spread
Taste test: The texture of this cheese spread is light and airy. Like milk cream cheese, this alternative has a slightly tangy taste. The garlic powder and spices add a rich savoriness to the base ingredients of water, coconut oil, and modified starch.
- Uncooked: I used this cheese as a dip with pita chips. I also spread it on toast and on a whole wheat everything bagel with lox.
- Cooked: I added this to a pot of peeled and boiled potatoes with vegan butter, roasted garlic, and seasoning.
Amazing. Wonderful. Showstopping. Whether it’s used to dip right out of a container, on a bagel, or mixed in with mashed potatoes, this vegan Boursin is a real winner. It is so creamy, light, and delicious uncooked and it makes mashed potatoes fluffier and more flavorful. Make sure to grab two boxes the next time you go to Trader Joe’s.
RATING: 5 out of 5