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Future of Cheese is the new plant-focused company on the market, founded by two influential members of the city's food and restaurant scene, changing the landscape for dairy-free cheese and butter, from right here in Toronto.
The strive to make the switch to more plant-based choices of consumption has seemingly been one of the city's top food trends this past year in particular, and it looks like it's here to stay.
With companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods thriving more than ever in North America, paired with a boom in vegetarian and vegan-focused restaurants opening across the GTA, it's clear that many are valuing the inclusion of plant-focused alternatives in their diets. Regardless of the motivation behind this change––from animal welfare, to environmental sustainability, to healthier dining habits––it's undeniable that plant-based foods are making the shift from short-lived trends to permanent adjustments in one's lifestyle.
Noting this wave of interest and demand for more plant-based products, chef Craig Harding of the iconic, but now shuttered, Campagnolo, Italian restaurant La Palma and Mediterranean restaurant Constantine, approached Maître Fromager Afrim Pristine of Cheese Boutique to create something special.
"As chefs, you know, we have a certain responsibility to be innovators and push our industry forward and I feel like this is always top of mind," says Harding. "How to be more sustainable and how to create products that are going to lead us into a longer lasting food future."
Crafting their new line through a short list of organic ingredients that are responsibly sourced, cashews are the main element used and products are not only vegan-friendly, but are also non-GMO.
With various plant-based substitutes on the market, for different sources of proteins and dairy products, arguably one of the most difficult to replicate is cheese. Who better to turn to for the creation of a solid cheese alternative, than Canada's Premier cheese expert?
"I don't think this is just a trend, I think people are looking for this and my job is to execute and get them the good stuff," says Pristine.
With nearly three decades worth of experience in the artistry of cheese making, Pristine, alongside chef Harding and chef John Collins who aided in the development of Planta's plant-based cheese and butter program, combined their respective skills and experience in the culinary industry to craft their first two products––a ripened brie that is naturally aged for approximately 30 days, as well as a salted and unsalted version of cultured butter.
"I need to source the best products possible. Whether it's aged-beef or aged-gouda or coffee, tea, jam, jelly or plant-based dairy," says Pristine, on why he joined the project. "My job is to source the best products possible for my guests and that frame of mind is how I looked at this. I'm going to take my training and experience for all these years and just now tweak it and adapt it to a product I know, but is also new to me, and fairly new on the market."
The first cheese developed is the classic brie. Traditionally a soft cheese made from cow's milk originating in Brie, France, this ripened brie from Future of Cheese is similar in appearance to its dairy counterpart––just take a look at that rind.
"Like how I trained making brie in France 20 years ago, we really kind of took that method, that technique and tradition, with plant-based products now," says Pristine.
Creamy and earthy, with a salty rind, this product has a great spreadable texture similar to a hummus. Chef Harding says that a goal of their brand is to create products that don't result in sacrificing great flavour, quality and taste.
"These products are made from plants and nuts, but I didn't want them to have the flavour profile," says the chef. "So we had to do things like neutralize some of the nuttiness and essentially take all the good things of those products, which is mouthfeel, texture, creaminess and then through age and flavour and our know how, we kind of infused the cheesy quality, if you will, into it."
Part of ensuring their product did not miss the mark on proving to be a great alternative meant treating their cashew-based creation with techniques used for classic brie. Chef Harding says this is achieved through putting the product into environments where they can grow mold, activating their probiotics and then they develop culture.
"We were able to take fairly neutral products and actually make them taste as close to real cheese as we could," he says.
Enjoy this plant-based option just as you would with a traditional brie. What's chef Harding's go-to way?
"This may sound tacky, but I love a little red pepper jelly and brie, it's like so old school," he says. "Or fresh strawberries and that brie is super delicious."
Made without the use of any gums or starches, the cultured butter is so smooth, with the same look and texture of butter that is made with dairy. Made using the main ingredients of refined coconut oil and raw cashews, this product is reminiscent of movie theatre popcorn in flavour––incredibly buttery and absolutely addictive––you'll easily find yourself spreading copious amounts on everything.
"I just love a warm baguette with that butter slathered on," says Harding. "I think good cultured butter can be eaten almost like cheese. So thick on the bread that you can see your teeth marks in it. That's how I approach the butter."
Chef Harding adds that another one of his favourite ways to incorporate this new product in is cooking it with wild mushrooms and finishing it in a nice pasta.
Future of Butter is tested for success to be incorporated into your favourite baked goods and savoury dishes. Expect to slowly have run ins with this plant-based butter, in treats across the city soon. Keep an eye out for products being rolled out at CB Bottega in the coming weeks, as well as their baked goods collaboration with brodflour, one of Pristine's favourite spots in the city. They're making vegan chai shortbread cookies to go hand in hand with the launch of this new product.
Starting today, Oct. 13, you can find Future of Butter on shelves at a variety of stores including Cheese Boutique, Organic Garage, McEwan Foods, Speducci, brodflour and Cumbrae's. In the coming weeks, Future of Cheese's ripened brie will be joining it. Follow along with this new plant-focused brand on Instagram to stay up to date on where their products can be found, recipe ideas, company insight and all the exciting developments to come.