Ditching the Dairy
Some say necessity is the mother of invention, but for Lynda Turner, the catalyst was a serious love of cheese.
Turner is the brains behind Fauxmagerie Zengarry and its line of vegan cheese products, made with cashews, fine herbs and organic oils. She explains that her business idea was born after she transitioned to a vegan diet seven years ago. One of the things she missed most was cheese — so she began to search for nondairy cheeses in the grocery store.
“I wasn’t really that excited about the choices that were available, so I got busy in my kitchen and I started trying out different recipes and I came up with my own,” recalls Turner, who was working as a scientist for Health Canada at the time. “I shared them with my friends and everyone really loved them — and it just kind of blossomed from there. Basically it was out of need — because I really like food,” she laughs.
Turner’s experimentation in her home kitchen was the beginning of what would soon become her full-time work. In 2015, she left her position in the federal public service and dedicated herself to making delicious, dairy-free cheese accessible to as many people as possible.
Today, Fauxmagerie Zengarry has a 5,000 square-foot vegan cheese factory in Alexandria, Ont. to meet growing demand for the product. She says that for most consumers, it’s love at first bite. “Usually [customers are] kind of surprised because they’ve tried other dairy-free cheeses and this one just tastes really good,” Turner says. “That’s the important part — you still want to have that yummy, cheesy taste and not feel like you’re depriving yourself or settling for second best.”
Since none of Zengarry’s products contain dairy, they are an ideal option for customers with allergies. “If you’re allergic to dairy or intolerant to dairy or just choosing not to eat dairy, you have a really delicious alternative to something that people really love,” Turner says. “Food is so tied in with our culture and our habits and our nurturing of our families; we’re used to having certain things like macaroni and cheese or pizza or creamy pasta sauces. Now you can still have that, but without the dairy.”
Zengarry now offers six different “fauxmage” flavours in retail stores, including a raw Brie-style; garlic and fine herbs (which emulates the flavour of classic Boursin cheese); sun-dried tomato and basil; gruyère-style; smokey jalapeño; and gruyère with cumin seed. All are made using natural ingredients.
“The main ingredient is cashews,” Turner explains. “We use raw cashews and soak them and then we blend them up with probiotics and culture them.” While dairy cheese is typically fermented with an animal-based rennet, Zengarry’s products are fermented with a plant-based probiotic, grown with quinoa. “Fermented foods are very important in our diet — they keep our intestinal micro-flora healthy,” she adds. After the products have been cultured, they’re flavoured. Turner sources her garlic locally and grows fresh herbs in her facility.
While her customer base definitely started with the vegan community, Turner says it has expanded to include friends and family of vegans and curious foodies. “I think one of the biggest challenges for people is when they have someone coming over who’s vegan,” Turner says. “What the heck are you going to feed them? You just don’t know.”
The rapid growth of the health-food sector in recent years has also made a wider range of products available to consumers — and people are more willing to try them. “I think people are understanding it a lot better; people didn’t really understand what vegan meant five years ago,” Turner says. “Now it’s becoming more mainstream — people actually get it.”
Zengarry recently launched a food service line as well — supplying four specialty flavours to restaurants and cafés, including a Pub Cheddar that’s fermented with Beau’s Beer. Grow Your Roots Café in Kanata and the brand-new Feline Café in Hintonburg are already serving up Zengarry’s tasty fauxmage.
When Turner talks about her products, one thing is abundantly clear — bringing joy to her customers truly makes her happy, and that’s not just cheesy marketing.
“I really want people to have options, and to not feel like they have to be deprived of something if they’re giving up dairy or if they can’t eat dairy,” she says. “I want kids to have grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese, and girls to go out and have delicious vegan wine and cheeses.”
209 Main St. N., Alexandria, Ont.