We are always on the lookout for great new vegan products and supporting vegan companies whenever we can. Back in the early spring,the CBC did a story on a new dairy-free cheese company on Prince Edward Island and when we knew we’d be heading that way, we wanted to reach out. We had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Julain Molnar, creator of Fresh Start Fauxmage, and got a chance to chat about her company, how she began and the amazing support and connections she’s worked hard to establish within PEI. Mostly vegan herself, she found many of the dairy-free alternatives available to the east coast market tasted too processed, or contained other common allergens. She kept hearing the same concerns from many of her friends, too. A theatre actress by trade, creating a vegan cheese company obviously took her in a completely different direction and she admitted that came with quite the learning curve. Through grants and government programs, she was able to launch Fresh Start Fauxmage with the assistance of a food science company that helped her develop some amazing products that aimed to match the flavours, textures and nuances of good cheese – in her case, they just happened to be nut-based. At the moment she’s selling her cheeses locally through health food stores and farmer’s markets, but is planning to soon expand into online sales and, potentially, mainstream grocers. We’re excited for that too, so we can get our hands on some more.
Julian was also gracious enough to leave us with a couple of cheeses to try – her Baked Almond Feta and her Extra Creamy Herb – the rest of her cheese line being temporarily sold out from a busy week. It was so great to know the reception to her products had been so positive. After trying the two we were given, we completely understand why. Both are absolutely delicious on their own or simply spread on crackers, but we thought it would be fun to try them in a couple of different recipes and we were totally impressed how well they could be incorporated into a multitude of preparations. The recipes below all utilize Fresh Start Fauxmage, but if you aren’t lucky enough to live in PEI, feel free to substitute your local brand of nut-cheese feta or cream cheese. We’ll post an update once Fresh Start Fauxmage is available to order online – we can’t wait to try the other 10 flavours!
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Almond Feta Gremolata
This soup has much in common with a classic Spanish Romesco sauce. Most of the aromatic ingredients are roasted in oil, one at a time, producing a deep flavor base that is a nice contrast with the sweet and smoky roasted red peppers. I finished this off with a Gremolata, a mix that usually includes chopped parsley, garlic, lemon zest and juice. I added some mint to the mix along with a crumble of Fresh Start Fauxmage’s Feta-style Almond cheese.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
- 2 tablespoons raw, unpeeled almonds
- 1 dried New Mexico chili
- 2 ½-inch thick slices of baguette
- ½ medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
- Leaves from 1 large sprig of thyme
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, from about ½ a small lemon
- 4 tablespoons crumbled Fresh Start Fauxmage Almond Feta
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, around three sprigs
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt to taste
- In a medium pot, heat the oil until hot but not smoking
- Add the crushed garlic and cook until browned on one side, flip and brown the other side. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible
- Add the almonds to the hot oil and toast until well browned. Remove from the oil and set aside with the garlic
- Add the chili to the hot oil and toast until it darkens on all sides, remove from the oil and reserve with the garlic and almonds. Toasting the chili will only take 10-15 seconds per side.
- Add the bread to the remaining oil and toast until deeply browned on both sides. It will absorb most of the remaining oil, but some should remain in the pot. Reserve with the garlic, chili, and almonds
- Lower the heat and sweat the onions in the remaining oil until they are tender, around 10 minutes. If there isn’t enough oil to coat the onions, add a little more to the pot.
- Add the roasted peppers, garlic, almonds, chili and bread to the pot
- Add the thyme and the vegetable broth
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered, until the onions and peppers are thoroughly softened, around 15-20 minutes
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before blending
- Add to a blender and carefully pulse to allow steam to escape (it is a good idea to cover the top of the blender with a rag or kitchen towel in case of splatters. Be very careful when blending hot liquids, it is easy to burn yourself). Once the bulk of the steam has been expelled, continue to process until it is fully blended. You can make this perfectly smooth or leave a little bit of texture.
- Return it to the pot and reheat to serving temperature
- Add the red wine vinegar and season with salt
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Be sure not to break up the almond feta too much, you want many pea-sized pieces to remain
- Ladle the soup in to 4 bowls and top each with a couple of tablespoons of the Gremolata.
Pan Roasted Cauliflower Steak with Dill-mustard sauce
When I first tasted Fresh Start Fauxmage’s Herb Cheese, I knew I wanted to try to use it in a warm savory sauce. The dill makes it a natural match with pungent Dijon mustard, and both of those pair so nicely with cauliflower, I knew which way to go. My only concern was whether it would curdle, or ‘break’, when exposed to the heat. I’m gald to say that it whisked in easily and smoothly! So, it would be great used in quick pasta sauces, stirred into steamed rice (or risotto!), or even whipped into mashed potatoes.
- extra virgin olive oil
- 4 1-inch thick slices of cauliflower, ideally from the centre of the head. To get four roughly even ‘steaks’, you will likely need two heads of cauliflower
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch, combined with a tablespoon of cold water to form a slurry
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons Fresh Start Fauxmage Herb Cheese
- Heat the vegetable broth until boiling
- Whisk in the cornstarch slurry
- Simmer until the sauce thickens, around 2 minutes
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the Dijon mustard and the Fauxmage herb cheese until it is smooth and completely combined. Season to taste.
- Heat a heavy pan, like a cast iron skillet, over medium heat until it is hot
- Add a little oil to the pan. Once hot, add the cauliflower ‘steaks’. Unless you have a really big pan, you will need to do this in batches
- Allow the cauliflower to pan roast for around 4 minutes, or until deeply browned, then flip and roast on the other side. After about 4 minutes the cauliflower will be cooked. Remove it to a plate and sprinkle it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower. You can keep the others warm in a low oven.
- When ready to serve, pour the sauce over the cauliflower steaks. Serve with your favorite side dishes. When we made this, I served it with wilted Swiss Chard leaves and some homemade sweet potato fries.
Crostini of Beets with Herb Cream Cheese
It seemed a natural choice to use this cheese in an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres setting. I’ve always enjoyed beets as part of a canapé, in part because they are a little unexpected, but mostly because they taste so good. So many people have had a negative experience with beets, usually the canned variety, that it is great to have them try the real thing. A little sweet, but unquestionably savory, they are balanced with a small amount of the Fresh Start Fauxmage Herb Cheese. I served it all on a toasted rye crostini, making a nice pass around treat.
- 4 medium or 2 large purple beets, washed, stems trimmed off, unpeeled
- Fresh Start Fauxmage Herb Cheese
- Thinly sliced Rye bread
- Olive oil for brushing the rye bread
- Finely shaved radishes
- Small basil leaves for garnish
- Kosher salt
- Cook the beets in simmering salted water until tender (you can check with a small paring knife. It should pass through to the centre will very little resistance). Remove the beets from the water and let them cool until you can handle them.
- When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off of the beets. When they are fully cooked, and still at least a little warm, they should slide off easily. Trim away the stem end
- Slice them crosswise into rounds not quite a ¼-inch thick.
- Using a round cookie cutter, about 1½-inches in diameter, cut out rounds from rye bread
- Preheat an oven to 350F.
- Brush the rye bread rounds with a little olive oil and toast on a baking sheet until lightly browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set them aside to cool.
- Using the same round cookie cutter, cut out rounds from the beet slices. Save the leftover beet scraps for a tasty snack
- Soften the Herb Cheese in a bowl by mashing it with a fork or spoon. Transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a straight tip.
- Pipe a small amount of herb cheese on one side of each rye toast. This will help keep the beet in place
- Place a beet round on top of rye toast.
- Pipe a small mound of the cheese on to the centre of the bet round.
- Place a radish slice and a small basil leaf in the herb cheese as a garnish
Watermelon Salad with Almond Feta
Watermelon and Feta is an irresistible combination. Here I’ve used the Fresh Start Fauxmage Feta-Style Almond Cheese as a wonderful vegan stand-in. A little tomato, orange and lots of fresh herbs turn this into a wonderful summer salad.
- 4 cups cubed peeled watermelon
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest, use an organic orange if possible
- Segments from 1 navel orange, reserve any juice collected
- 1 cup sliced red onion
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- ¼ cup chopped basil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice, reserved from the segmented orange
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ container of Fresh Start Fauxmage Feta
- To maximize the texture of the Almond feta, I flattened it out on a plastic wrap lined sheet tray and let it air dry for a few hours. This is an optional step, but it made it more crumbly.
- Combine the vinegar, orange juice, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl, gently toss together all of the remaining ingredients until well mixed, then drizzle on the dressing. Mix well again.
- If you make this ahead of time, the salt of the dressing will pull out a lot of liquid from the watermelon and tomato, so don’t add it until right before serving.