The Rise of Plant-Based Cheeze

Meet some of the Edmonton companies producing plant-based, creamy blocks of “cheeze.”

Illustration by Valéry Goulet

Dairy products have been falling out of style. Not only did Health Canada eliminate the dairy section from the Canadian Food Guide, but milk sales have been trending downward since 2009, according to Statistics Canada. Whatever people’s reasons are for steering away from milk, they’ve opened up a market for plant-based alternatives. But, even as their industry grows, the people creating these alternative products are coming up against legislation designed to protect Canadian consumers.

Last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) informed The Blue Heron Creamery, a vegan shop in Vancouver, that it could not use the word “cheese” to describe its products, because the legal definition says that cheese is made from dairy.

“Federal cheese composition standards require that products labelled as cheese be dairy-based,” explains a representative from the CFIA.

He also adds that the CFIA “is working with Blue Heron to address this issue and find an acceptable common name to market the company’s products.”

In the meantime, Edmonton producers of plant-based, semi-solid, creamy blocks of goodness — or “cheezes” — have come up with ways of marketing their products within the guidelines, while still trying to communicate to consumers what their product is.

Neil Royale, owner and chef at Die Pie, and co-owner of Pêche Café, is well aware that his colleagues elsewhere in Canada have had problems with the CFIA, and his solution has been to avoid using the word “cheese” when he sells Kaju products at 124 Grand Market in summer, and at Die Pie and Pêche Cafe all year round.

“Even the styles of cheeze, they won’t be spelled properly,” he explains. Royale got into plant-based cheeze making when he decided to open his own vegetarian pizzeria. Two years before opening Die Pie in 2017, he started experimenting with different recipes and now has two different ways of making his signature Kaju cheeze.

For the first, he soaks cashews, blends them and then adds coconut oil and a culture before letting the cheeze mature. For the more meltable cheezes, like cheddar and mozzarella, he starts with a base, like cashews or hemp seeds, and makes a “milk” out of it. He then adds ingredients to thicken the cheeze and help it set.

Allison Landin, owner of Truffula Tree Nut Creamery, takes a similar approach to Royale in that she hasn’t used the term “cheese” since putting out her first product six years ago.

“The other products I’ve released in the last few years, I didn’t use ‘cheese,’ I used ‘cultured nut product,’ so I just switched that one label when I saw the media coverage of Blue Heron in Vancouver,” she says.

But her customers still often call it cheese, and describing it as “like cheese” often gives them a better idea of what the product is and how it can be eaten.

“I’m not sure that it’s legitimately confusing for the consumer or not,” Landin says.

She started Truffula in December 2013. Her products are primarily made from whole, organic cashews and she uses a raw-food technique, without fillers. She soaks, rinses and creams the nuts before adding a probiotic culture and leaving the mixture to ferment. There’s also a secondary fermenting process as she shapes the final product. In total, the process takes about five days.

She says one of her most popular items is her white truffle cultured nut product, which is available through spud.ca, at Blush Lane and at Earth’s General Store.

The current owners of For the Love of Cheese Vegan Cheezery used “cheeze” on their products from the beginning, despite the company name. Each of their packages also sport a bright pink “vegan” sticker.

“Our name is For the Love of Cheese … [but] I think For the Love of Cheese, it’s for people that love dairy cheese too, so you could say that it’s still the traditional definition of the word cheese,” explains Natanya Pearcey.

Natanya and her husband, James Pearcey, got into plant-based cheeze making when they encouraged Natanya’s mother, Shirley Lukawitski, to buy For the Love of Cheese in October 2017. About six months later, the couple joined Lukawitski in running the business.

They now regularly produce nine different kinds of cheeze, as well as a couple of rotating features. While many of their products are either almond- or cashew-based, both their cheeze sauce and smoked peppercorn “gooda” are nut-free.

When it comes to naming their cheezes, Natanya says they’ve always named them differently, “just because we thought that would be a fun twist and luckily I think it’s removed us from any of that [CFIA] drama.”

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This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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