“What I missed the most when I went vegan was the wine-and-cheese experience,” says Miyoko Schinner, owner of vegan cheese brand Miyoko’s Creamery. “A slice of cheese on a veggie burger is fine, but an unctuous wedge of cheese with a great wine is the meaning of life.”
Several nondairy cheesemakers aim to answer that call. The vegan cheese market is valued at $2.1 billion, and industry researcher Technavio predicts it will grow by nearly 8% by 2023. (By comparison, the traditional dairy cheese industry was valued at $70 billion in 2019.) Miyoko’s Creamery sales are growing an average of 100% year over year, says Schinner.
“Our favorite pastime [before we went vegan] was picnics with cheese and wine,” says Kirsten Maitland, co-founder of vegan deli and wine shop Rebel Cheese in Austin. “We wanted to recreate that when opening our store.”
Rebel Cheese makes 12 vegan cheeses in-house and serves them alongside meat-free charcuterie and seven wines by the glass or bottle.
As close to the “real thing” as vegan Cheddar or mozzarella might be, traditional pairing rules don’t always apply.
“Sometimes, consumers are a little shocked to see that a Cabernet may not be the best to pair with [a vegan] Cheddar,” says Maitland. “A readjustment of senses is needed to understand what pairs better with a plant-based [cheese] versus a dairy cheese.”
Vegan cheeses tend to be earthier and less fatty, Maitland says, which can make wine pairing a challenge.
“The fat and salt that is natural in their traditional cheese counterparts are now gone and replaced with multiple ingredients to try to imitate it,” she says. “Those natural salts and fats linger on the tongue after eating a cheese, which softens the acidity or tannins of the wine you are drinking with it.
“Many of the vegan cheese options have a very low fat content, so to pair a wine, I would stay with very light-bodied wines.”
She suggests pairing saltier vegan cheeses with fuller-bodied white wines, like oaked Chardonnay. Champagne works, too.
Vegan cheeses tend to have subtler bouquets than dairy cheeses, so choose wines with neutral aromas that won’t overpower them, says Jordi Paronella, head sommelier at Jaleo in Washington D.C.
All vegan cheeses are not the same, either. The aging process, ingredients and cheesemaking process affect the finished product. As with wine, vegan cheese brands vary.
That said, many of the core pairing fundamentals don’t change with vegan cheese, says Maitland. A full-bodied red wine or off-dry Riesling will still pair with spicier vegan cheeses like pepper jack, while sweet wines also complement an aged vegan blue cheese.
“If we have quality vegan cheeses, traditional wine pairings will work,” says Paronella. “If the vegan cheese is lacking texture or flavor, the wine will add more complexity to the pairing, or wines with more neutral aroma.”
Keep in mind that not all wine is vegan. Traditional wine fining agents include gelatin, egg whites, milk proteins (casein) and isinglass (dried fish bladder). Vegan alternatives include kaolin (bentonite clay), pea protein and activated charcoal, but labeling laws don’t require all ingredients to be listed on wine bottles.
To discover whether a wine is vegan, ask a winemaker, sommelier or retailer. You can also use an app like Vivino or Barnivore, a website that’s kept a database of vegan alcohol since 2001.
Here are pairing ideas for 12 nondairy cheeses from cheesemakers and sommeliers.
Soft or spreadable vegan cheeses
“We pair all of our bloomy cheeses with bubbly wines,” says Maitland. “The bubbles cut through our most earthy cheeses and cleanse the palate.” Some vegan brie cheese brands include Urban Cheesecraft, Druids Grove, Wildbrine and Julie’s Brie.
Vegan Boursin cheeses are young and fresh. These pair well with Ramoro Pinot Grigio from Italy, which is fruity, fresh and slightly sparkling, says Maitland.
Pair vegan feta with a dry Assyrtiko with minerality and brininess from Santorini, says Andy Reichgut of Violife, a Greek dairy-free cheese brand available across the U.S. He also recommends a dry Riesling.
Schinner says Miyoko’s Creamery’s Double Cream Chive pairs beautifully with Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, rosés and sparkling wines from the Moon Mountain, Sonoma Valley and Carneros American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
“The vibrant acidity from those wines help to cut through the richness of the cheese, while the chive component accents the grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc, enhances the savory qualities of the Chard and really brightens citrus in sparklings,” says Schinner.
Maitland recommends pairing vegan mozzarella with Dominio De Atauta Tempranillo from Spain. The wine’s Bing cherry aromas complement the soft and slightly sweet cheese, she says.
Reichgut says crisp Sauvignon Blanc from California goes well with vegan mozzarella, “especially with some fresh basil or roasted garlic with the cheese.”
Semi-firm vegan cheeses
“We’ve found that our aged cheeses, like a Smoked English Farmhouse, pair particularly well with Sonoma Pinot Noirs, especially ones from Petaluma Gap and Cabernet Sauvignon from Moon Mountain AVAs,” says Schinner. The cheese brings out the wine’s bacon and gamey notes.
An aged Cheddar and brie hybrid, chebrie has a sharp Cheddar flavor with deep umami and earthy undertones from the rind. Cheezehound offers a vegan cheese similar to chebrie. The Route 28 and Blue Mountain are also very similar to chebrie, says Erica Kubersky, co-owner of New York City’s Orchard Grocer.
“We like to pair this with our Alberti Malbec from Argentina,” says Maitland. “The deep, dark fruit and the tannins soften the sharpness of the Cheddar and rind.”
Maitland often pairs this slightly nutty cheese with Omen Pinot Noir from Oregon. “The ‘berry-ness’ of this Pinot offers a great counterbalance to the nuttiness in the cheese,” she says. “Gunderloch Zweigelt is also a very fun choice, perfect for this time of year, as it’s delicious with a slight chill on it.”
Kubersky suggests Mulshenock from Cheezehound, which has a smoky Gruyère flavor.
New World A Rioja like 2010 Torre Muga is Reichgut’s pick with a smoked vegan provolone. Its smokiness brings out some of subtler notes of leather and toasted vanilla in the wine.
Hard vegan cheeses
At Rebel Cheese, Maitland prefers to pair vegan parmesan with an environmentally friendly Italian wine.
“We pair this with Coste di Moro Montepulciano,” says Maitland. “It is biodynamically produced and certified by Demeter, and the packaging features biodegradable paper [and] ‘green’ glass… And there is a ton of flavor.”