New vegan cheese 'flying off the shelves' in P.E.I.
'The growth of alternative food is exploding right now, it's really huge'
Love cheese, but trying to stick to a plant-based or vegan diet? Newly-minted P.E.I. foodpreneur Julain Molnar's new business Fresh Start Fauxmage is baking up the solution, and so far it's been a recipe for success.
More people are looking for vegan options, even if they're not 100 per cent vegan.— Trisha Viaene, Riverview Farm Market
Fauxmage is becoming the commonly-used generic term for artisanal cheese made without dairy. Molnar creates several different kinds including chevre, cheddar, gouda and feta, using crushed almonds or cashews and coconut milk, plus a few other ingredients including olive oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and garlic.
"It's a really great alternative to the highly-processed alternative cheeses that you get at the supermarket these days," said the 50-something entrepreneur, who's stuck to eating a mainly vegetarian or vegan diet most of her life.
"The growth of alternative food is exploding right now, it's really huge," Molnar noted — a fact Island consumers have likely noticed, as what used to be quaintly referred to as "the health food section" expands at local grocery chains.
"It's not a fad, it's serious, serious numbers in the food business," she said. "It's an exciting time to be in this corner of the market."
Singing for her supper
If Molnar's name sounds familiar, it's because for much of the last two decades she has performed on stage in the Charlottetown Festival productions including Anne of Green Gables. The past four years, she's performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., but is now back home in Stratford, P.E.I., and back at the Confederation Centre in the cast of Anne and Glenda's Kitchen.
When Molnar returned to P.E.I. in the fall and went shopping for fauxmage, she couldn't find any she liked — so she decided to make some for herself, and try selling it at the Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown.
The first day, all 32 of the faux cheeses sold in an hour and a half, Molnar said — she credits a post on the Facebook site Vegetarians and Vegans of P.E.I.
Since then, it's been a challenge keeping the shelves stocked.
"The business is just sort of rolling. So many people are interested in it, it seems to be doing itself — not that it's not a ton of work!" Molnar laughed.
'A whole new amazing turn'
That's why she called it Fresh Start, she shared. "It feels like a whole new amazing turn in my life that's given me all kinds of new energy … something that I can do that I really love that can give me a support system when I'm not doing theatre, give me more of a balance."
The Riverview Country Market, which sells the fauxmage, is thrilled — the cheese has been "flying off the shelves," with some customers buying as many as six cheeses at once.
"It's important to Riverview to support new, local up-and-coming producers," enthused the store's Trisha Viaene, who said they have customers who find fresh, local products limited for vegans.
"More people are looking for vegan options, even if they're not 100 per cent vegan," Viaene commented.
'Comfort and luxury'
The price of Molnar's fauxmage is mid-range, she said between mass-produced and artisanal cheeses, whether vegan or dairy-based — $10 per fist-sized 180-gram round, retail.
Molnar eats vegan for health reasons as well as concerns for animal welfare and the environment, but noted customers don't have to shun dairy to love her products.
"I'm making it because I miss cheese … that creamy hit," she said. "So people like me who don't eat dairy, lactose-intolerant people, vegans, or people just looking for a different experience … I like to think of it as sort of a food adventure."
Real investment in faux cheese
She's producing the cheese at BioFoodTech in Charlottetown, a certified provincial-government run kitchen service on the UPEI campus that helps foodpreneurs take their ideas to market.
So far, Molnar has invested about $3,000 of her own money, she said.
She was also part of a program called Food Xcel put on by Food Island Partnership in which almost 40 new P.E.I. foodpreneurs competed for a chance to win $30,000 that helped her develop her product and business model. The program costonly $25 and was worth thousands in workshops from Sobeys, lawyers, accountants and others, she said.
Molnar was one of the contest's seven finalists, which was won by Ryan Abdullah of Charlottetown and his garlic paste.
What is rich?
She's excited at the prospect of success in this new arena.
"If I could take the theatre jobs I really want when I want them, instead of having to take everything that comes along, I would feel rich," she said. An annual vacation and some philanthropy to causes she believes in would be the icing on the cake, she said.
Molnar has already had interest from Sobey's in testing her fauxmage in three stores, she said.
She's planning to sell at the Charlottetown Farmer's Market Saturdays as well as at a new Farm Centre market Thursdays this summer. She'll also sell literally at the farm gate — a booth at the end of her lane in Stratford.
More products and flavours are in the works, she said, including brie.
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