Say welcome back to pizzas, pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches (toasties for you Brits!), fondue, and more – because this basic vegan cheese sauce recipe will open the door for all of them to come back into your post-dairy life! No nuts, no soaking, no blenders, no weird ingredients, and virtually fool-proof.
This is the absolute bare minimum, base level, most allergy-friendly, but still absolutely luscious and wonderful vegan cheese sauce recipe that will change the way you eat forever.
Seriously. The day you make this cheese sauce will be the first day of a new era in your kitchen.
I swore I didn’t do stories in my recipes but here I go..
I don’t usually go into ancient histories and long babbling stories here on my blog, but this post deserves a little backstory:
So in my formative years while growing up, we had a small dairy goat farm. I milked goats twice a day with my two little hands, strained, stored, and turned the milk into all kinds of amazing things. Butter, yogurt, ice cream, and.. CHEESE. So I’ve got a little bit of knowhow when it comes to cheesemaking.
And do you know what I realised? Guess what we made cheese out of? MILK. Not solid milk. Not milk powder. LIQUID MILK. Cheese in the simplest sense is milk + something to thicken it (rennet, bacteria, time, and/or acid). This is a way oversimplified explanation of cheesemaking which can actually get super duper complicated, but just hang with me for a minute..
Now, I know that plant-based milks don’t exactly perform in the same ways as dairy milk. Trust me, I’m not that dense. But most plant-based milks on the market today come pretty darn close to the taste and texture of dairy milk. The sweetness is just about the same (cow’s milk has around 13g of sugar per 8oz), and the viscosity is matched thanks to gums, proteins, or gelling agents that are either added or are naturally in the plant that’s being used to make the milk.
So I decided to give plant milk a shot to see if it could deliver. And boy did it.
What kind of milk do I use?
Rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, pea milk, and oat milk have all yielded pretty similar results with this recipe. I’m convinced that any decent tasting dairy-free milk will be able to give you a nice cheese sauce.
So basically, choose your favorite plain, unflavored milk here that you love to drink on its own to make your vegan cheese sauce. Allergic to nuts? Choose one without them. Don’t like soy? Don’t use it. Hate additives and can’t find any without them? Use homemade. The world is your [vegan alternative] oyster!
What other ingredients are there?
For our bare-minimum basic vegan cheese sauce, there is only one more ingredient: tapioca starch. (This is the one I use. Don’t laugh at the name, it works great.)
When tapioca starch is heated in liquid, not only does it thicken it but it also makes it stretchy and very.. well, cheese-like. And not only that, but the ‘cheese’ will thicken even more when it cools, and remelt when it’s heated. It’s freakin’ magic.
Can’t find tapioca starch, and can only get your hands on tapioca flour? No worries, they’re the same thing.
Allergic to tapioca? Give arrowroot powder/flour/starch a try. It performs nearly identically to tapioca.
Are both tapioca and arrowroot out for you? Potato starch (NOT flour) is a great sub and still gives you some good stretch!
What this cheese sauce ISN’T
This sauce is NOT firm cheese product which can be sliced and grated.. at least not in its natural form. I’ve got a variation that can be sliced and grated, and I’m working on getting that recipe put together for you so stay tuned!
This sauce does NOT look appetizing while cold! Seriously. It’s gross and gloopy. But don’t judge it, heat it up, and watch the magic happen!
This sauce is NOT flavored! This is the BASE RECIPE – so if you want to give it a smoky mozzarella or cheddar flavor, or if you want to go a bit funky and go bleu cheese direction, you’re going to have to add some flavor to it. This recipe will taste like the milk you made it with and no more.
If you want some flavoring ideas, I highly recommend giving my friend Kat a visit at 86eats.com and browsing through her plethora of vegan cheese recipes. She’s the queen of vegan cheese and your flavor will most likely be found there! Check out what she uses for flavors and pop ’em in this sauce and you’ll be golden. I’m also adding my own recipes here as I get them put together, so stay tuned for that. (Eek I already put together the first one – my vegan chorizo queso recipe!)
I swear though, if you come at me with one star saying this sauce is bland and tasteless I’m gonna give you the angry Samuel L. Jackson stare.
How do I use it?
First of all, flavor it. Lol. Even if it’s just a little salt and garlic powder to get your feet wet. Then? The sky is the limit! Toss it with some pasta, drizzle over an open-faced sandwich before toasting, use it on pizza, in lasagna, as a dip, in soup.. Whatever your heart desires!
What equipment do I need?
Super simple here, y’all.
A saucepot. A tablespoon. A measuring cup. A silicone spatula. A stovetop.
That’s it. Really.
Sometimes I use a fine mesh sieve if I want to get some chunky ingredients mixed in for flavoring, or if I walk away and it thickens while I’m gone and gets tapioca pearls in it. But otherwise, it’s not needed.
You absolutely do not need a blender!
The first thing you’re going to do is measure out one heaping tablespoon of tapioca starch into a measuring cup and add just enough of your plant milk to cover the starch (add in any desired flavorings now).
Mix it well until there are no lumps and the milk is smooth.
Next, add milk until you have one cup total.
Pour the mixture into a small saucepot over medium heat, and stir continuously with a silicone spatula.
As the mixture heats up, you’ll soon feel the bottom of your pan become slippery and friction fade away – keep stirring.
Once you start to see froth/foam start to appear at the top of the milk, turn your heat to low, and stir quickly. It will begin to thicken within just a few seconds.
When your mixture thickens it will look very lumpy at first, keep stirring vigorously for another minute or two until it all smooths out. This whole process should take less than ten minutes.
Once it’s smooth, turn off the heat and remove your pot from the stove so that your cheese sauce doesn’t burn.
You can use your sauce now or store it in the refrigerator for future use. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days.
Other cheesy things I have to offer:
Other than my sense of humor, that is..
I’ve got my vegan chorizo queso recipe here!
And if you’re wanting other dairy-free, vegan cheese options that aren’t necessarily of the savory variety, you should check out my revolutionary cream cheese frosting and my crave-worthy cream cheese danish filling!
Watch me make it, from beginning to end:
Pin it for later:
- 1 cup plant milk (your choice, unflavored)
- 1 heaping tbsp tapioca starch (use arrowroot or potato starch if allergic)
- mix tapioca starch with enough milk to cover until smooth
- add milk until one cup total
- heat in a small saucepot over medium heat, stirring continuously
- once froth rises to top, turn heat down to low, continue stirring
- sauce will thicken very quickly, stir until smooth
- remove from heat
Check out 86eats.com for flavoring ideas, or check back later for new recipes from me!
Use while hot, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.