- There’s no lack of high-quality dairy-free cheeses for vegan pizzas in 2022.
- “I started ordering 20 pounds of [Pleese cheese] each month, and now I can go through that amount in a day,” one operator says.
By Tracy Morin
Like most vegan food categories, the growth, diversity and quality of dairy-free cheeses in recent years has been simply astounding. With ever more demand driving ever more innovation from manufacturers, vegan pizzas no longer need to be presented as cheeseless versions that pale in comparison to the “real thing.” We checked in with operators across the country—from catering and take-and-bake operations to traditional independents and chains—to get their take on how vegan cheeses are working wonders across their menu.
Chef Louis Bayla and Brian Bistroy
Table and Banter, Berkeley, NJ
We purchase our vegan cheese: Miyoko’s Creamery Organic Cashew Milk Mozzarella, which is like fresh mozzarella, and Violife Just Like Parmesan. Parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar are great for omelets and sandwiches, and we use it just like you would use any cheese. We don’t charge extra—the profit margin is slightly less, but we use a lot of cheese on our pizzas—and the customer response has been positive. I think they appreciate us keeping their eating habits in mind. And it’s not just vegetarians who eat our vegan dishes; sometimes the customer just wants to eat cleaner or plant-based. I’d recommend tasting different cheeses, seeing how they melt and work with your dishes. You will be surprised to see what’s out there!
John Accardi, Owner
Vito’s Slices and Ices, New York, NY
The co-founder of Pleese Foods reached out to me because he heard that we’re the top-rated pizzeria in our neighborhood, and he wanted authentic New York pizza for an event he was hosting. We had gotten multiple requests for vegan cheese before that, but nothing impressed me until I saw Pleese melt and tasted it on my pizza. I became the first pizzeria in the world to carry it regularly on my menu. I started ordering 20 pounds of it each month, and now I can go through that amount in a day. Many of my regular customers order only vegan slices now!
For best results when cooking, I use a thin layer of sauce and top off the cheese with olive oil before placing in the oven. My ovens can reach 600°F, and I use a screen under the crust, so the cheese and dough bake in about eight to 10 minutes. We charge a premium—$3 per slice, $6 per pie—so the slices are more profitable, especially with added toppings. We were recently ranked in the top five vegan pizzerias in NYC!
Carron Harris, Senior Director of Culinary
Papa Murphy’s, Vancouver, WA (1,250 U.S. locations, plus locations in Canada and the United Arab Emirates)
We tried eight different brands of dairy-free cheese, evaluating them on taste, appearance, meltability, texture and ease of use for operators. We also had to consider distribution across the U.S. and cost-effectiveness. We use Violife Just Like Mozzarella Shreds in our UAE stores, so having a global presence was a bonus. It also scored the best among our tasters in all of the categories. Currently, the cheese is on the menu on pizzas but can be subbed on a salad as well.
The mozzarella comes ready for operators to use and looks much different than our current whole-milk mozzarella, which is shredded in-house. This helps keep confusion at a minimum for the crew. Employees follow the usual steps to make a pizza, and the cheese comes in a reasonable-size package to prevent waste, which helps profitability. Dairy-free cheese definitely costs more to purchase, and we pass that along to consumers: Our franchisees charge between $2 to $3 more for a pizza with dairy-free cheese to maintain profit margins. But customer response has been overwhelmingly positive! Families are so excited that they can get a dairy-free pizza for their lactose-intolerant kids. It allows the whole family to enjoy our pizzas.
Mac Malchow, Director of Menu Innovation
Toppers Pizza, Whitewater, WI (70 locations)
There are so many vegan cheese options today, all with different taste profiles, visuals and melts. We reviewed more than 10 different cheeses before finally partnering with an expert vegan chef who helped us identify the perfect cheese for taste and melt in our ovens. We stock one dairy-free/vegan cheese made by Follow Your Heart. We use this cheese on our build-your-own recipes, vegan house pizza recipes and our Veganstix (the dairy-free version of cheesy Topperstix).
With any food product, there are storage and shelf-life procedures to keep in mind, but dairy-free cheese doesn’t require anything out of the norm. However, dairy-free mozzarella is much more expensive than mainstream mozzarella and even other niche cheeses, so we have to upcharge for it. As it continues to grow in popularity and our usage climbs, we’ll be able to purchase it at a lower cost and, in turn, pass those savings onto our customers.
Still, the customer response since we added vegan cheeses has been phenomenal. We started receiving incredible customer feedback for our vegan recipes immediately upon rollout two years ago. The feedback has continued ever since, and it’s normal to see Google reviews every week mentioning the love of our plant-powered products. They are a small but mighty and boisterous customer group that we love to serve.
If you’re looking to add vegan cheeses to the menu, be picky. Don’t rush the process. Find one you really love and that works with your other products. Don’t just add it to your menu as an option, but really incorporate recipes that you know (through research) that vegan customers are going to love.
Leho Poldmae, Owner/Operator
Neo (Never Expect Ordinary) Pizza + Taphouse, Baltimore, MD
Having worked in and owned successful restaurants for more than 25 years, I know how important it is to use quality ingredients, and Neo Pizza is known for its artisan pizzas. When we were looking for a vegan cheese, we needed one that would help us bring our signature creations to life and chose Vitalite plant-based, vegan-certified, dairy-free mozzarella-style shreds from Saputo Dairy USA. We have been impressed with the product’s ability to help us to deliver the great taste, texture, melting performance and visual appeal our customers expect. With more people following a vegan or flexitarian approach to eating, it’s a must to have vegan options on the menu today.
The biggest thing to know about working with vegan cheese is to understand that it’s not always a one-to-one replacement for dairy cheese. Before using it as a topping on a pizza, experiment with it to ensure you understand its characteristics. We like to recommend adding toppings with different textures and interesting flavors to create a delicious artisan vegan pizza. One great thing about our plant-based cheese is that it does well with some rest time before consumption, which gives us a bit more flexibility in service. From a cooking standpoint, we’ve found that it melts best under high heat, which is ideal for the pizza ovens we use. But we’d recommend experimenting with textures, temperatures and flavors when first adding a vegan cheese to the menu. Vegan cheese pairs well with pickled items and vegetables, so creating menu options that bring out some of those flavors are ideal.
We charge an additional $2 for vegan cheese, sausage or pepperoni on our 10” pizzas and $4 on our 14” pizzas. We’ve had a great response from customers since we’ve added vegan cheese and vegan meat substitutes to our menus. Vegan, flexitarian or dairy-intolerant customers appreciate being able to enjoy our artisan pizzas—they feel more valued when they come to your restaurant and have a few menu items to choose from.
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.