This Vegan Parmesan Tastes Freakishly Like the Real Thing
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One of the itty-bitty joys I’ve clung to real hard this year has been finding the best vegan Parmesan cheese. Everyone knows the hardest part about eating fewer animal products (or avoiding dairy due to an allergy or intolerance) is the lack of cheese. (Okay, the butter is a major issue too—so discovering the greatest vegan butter has been another 2020 highlight.) Like, I love cows—I do!—and the greenhouse gas emissions of these gentle creatures contribute a shocking amount to climate change. But CHEEEEEESE.
The most gaping cheese hole in my vegan-ish diet has definitely been the Parmesan-shaped one, since I used to put that stuff on everything—pasta, roasted veggies, salad, soup, popcorn. The hunt for a good plant-based substitute has been disappointing, to say the least. I love nutritional yeast, but it’s…nutritional yeast. As for store-bought options, it’s not that none of them taste good; they just taste nothing like Parmesan.
Enter the Violife Just Like Parmesan Wedge ($6, Instacart). What first caught my eye in the nondairy section was the fact that it’s an actual wedge—it immediately gives off artisanal, better-than-a-green-bottle-of-Kraft vibes. In your hand, it’s got the density and feel of a real wedge of hard cheese. But I didn’t fall in love until I put my first block to the test with a microplane grater over a bowl of spaghetti marinara.
Just Like Parmesan grates like a dream, sprinkling over your pasta finely and fluffily as a first snowfall. I’ve always been heavy-handed with my Parmesan—I like more of a mound than a dusting—so I was thrilled with how quickly this alternative yielded a generous pile, a distinctly Parm-y mellow aroma wafting off the plate. And the flavor profile! Slightly salty, slightly nutty, slightly fruity sweet, just like a good block of the real deal. I’d actually describe it as a quality Parmesan with just a touch of Gouda.
I don’t know nearly enough about food science to understand how the 100% vegan ingredients list translates into a successful simulacrum of actual cow cheese. Just Like Parmesan is made of sort of random stuff like potato starch, rice starch, coconut oil, olive extract, and salt, plus a slightly mysterious proprietary flavoring agent called Parmezan Flavor.
What I can tell you is this stuff is as versatile and reliable a flavor-enhancer as actual Parmesan cheese. I indeed use it on everything, a vegan-friendly return to the good ol’ dairy days. The act of topping a dish with freshly grated “cheese” is itself a pleasant ritual that makes me feel like a fancier, more effortful cook than I actually am. Just Like Parmesan slices beautifully too—it’s fantastic on a vegan cheese board alongside crackers, olives, fruit, and nuts, plus a glass of Tuscan red. If you’re looking to fill a hard Italian cheese void in your life, treat yourself to a wedge of the most deliciously convincing vegan Parmesan cheese out there.
Editor’s note: Instacart deliveries start at $3.99 for same-day orders over $35. Or get unlimited free deliveries on orders over $35 with an Instacart Express membership, which costs $99 a year but pays for itself if you use it at least twice a month.
Violife Just Like Parmesan Wedge
This dairy-free Parmesan cheese substitute tastes and grates like the real thing.
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