I love my city. I really do. And I especially love how the veg scene is really taking off here. Earlier this week, I brought you some news about our first dairy-free cheese shop opening up in Mt Pleasant, and today I have another story for you about a new veg-friendly experience.
I’ve been a fan of Neverland Tea Salon since it opened in 2012. My friend Renee is one of the owners, along with Terri Tatchell (you may know her as the writer of District 9). Neverland is, in a word, charming. The furniture is an eclectic mix of vintage finds, as is all of the china. Sparkling chandeliers mix with natural wood touches. The overall effect is warm, fun and welcoming.
Just before Christmas, Neverland launched what I think is Vancouver’s first Vegan, Gluten-free high tea.
As you can imagine, there are challenges associated with going both vegan and gluten-free, and I interview Jess, the pastry chef in this video and we discuss just that.
Here are some of my highlights from the experience:
Tea: Neverland has a fantastic variety of different kinds of teas that they have had blended for them. My favourite is always the London Fog, which is a latte made with their Earl Grey (which is one of the best in the city, IMHO). But I also love their Neverland blend, which is a chocolate mint.
Savoury: on the bottom tier of the high tea are the savory bites. Here, you’ll find tea sandwiches that include some more traditional type bites (hummus and cucumber) as well as some more inventive one (I particularly enjoyed the carrot lox and the harvest scone, which tasted like thanksgiving in one bite, with butternut squash, sage and cranberry).
Sweet: moving up to the second tier, you’ll find sweet bites like a coconut panna cotta with tea-poached pears, and an incredibly moist chocolate cake.
Scones: the final tier includes adorable little scones with vegan cream and jam, just like a proper high tea should have.
Karen McAthy is a local chef whose career I have been following for many years.
It all started way back in 2012, when the plant-based movement was really just getting started here in Vancouver. McAthy was named Executive Chef of a brand new, veg restaurant in the Fraserhood (now closed) called Graze. I remember eating tagliatelle made from carrots and parsnips, tossed in a “cream” sauce during Dine Out.
Blue Heron’s Herb and Garlic Cumulus Cheese (very akin to chevre)
A couple years later, Karen moved to Zend in Yaletown. The menu here was vegan, lots of raw vegan, in fact, and it was here that I had Karen’s cheeses for the first time. At Zend they served a vegan cheese board that was a pretty big revelation. Around this same time, Karen started a subscription service for her cheeses; you could sign up and get a regular delivery of non-dairy cheeses, the likes of which no one else in town was doing.
All of this has lead to McAthy (along with the help of her business partner Coin Medhurst), to open Vancouver’s first dairy-free cheese shop, Blue Heron Creamery, in Mt. Pleasant. Located at 2410 Main St (right beside Friendly, and neighbouring The Wallflower), the shop will sell a variety of vegan nut- and coconut-based yogurts, sour creams, butters and cheeses.
Inside the Blue Heron Cheese Cave, where the cheeses are aged
And I got a sneak preview last week.
The thing that I cannot emphasize enough here is that McAthy (our own Vancouver chef) is doing things that very few people in the world are currently doing. There is literally only a handful of chefs out there that are creating real, cultured cheeses and employing these kinds of techniques. It’s really exciting stuff. I mean, I hate to throw around the word “pioneer,” but if the shoe fits…
Here’s what you’ll be able to purchase at the Blue Heron Creamery when it opens its doors on February 15:
Coconut Yogurt: this is like the creamiest greek yogourt you’ve ever had, but it’s properly cultured like yogourt. It doesn’t have any thickeners, it’s just the straight-up good stuff. I really like the coconut flavour as well; I had some for breakfast with granola, fruit and maple syrup.
Sour Cream and butter: again, both are cultured.
Ricotta: This is an almond ricotta, and the texture is simply spot-on! I could happily use this to stuff pasta, or in a gnocchi. Or just on toast, let’s be real.
Cumulus: There’s a variety of different flavours for the cumulus cheeses, which are most reminiscent of goat’s cheese, or chevre. I was shocked by how perfect the texture was, by how much it reminded me of goat’s cheese. It has the same tang, as well. There’s plain, herb and garlic, fig, and a really cool one made with fermented garlic scapes (which may be my favourite thing in the world).
Aged Cheeses: so, this is where it gets really interesting. Some of the cheeses currently in production will not be sold for many months or even a year. McAthy is playing with bacterial inoculations, different methods of creating rinds, and washing the cheeses in various substances, including beer. The ricottas, yogurts, sour creams, butters and cumulus cheeses all have a fairly short production cycle; they can be ready within a few days. But the cheeses in this category are much more sophisticated, and take a great deal longer to create. They include a blue cheese, a beechwood cheese, brined and aged, but my favourite was the Smoke ‘n’ Spice Cashew Cheddar, which reminded me of a smoked gouda.
The shop has been created with lots of personal touches; the wall art is based on McAthy’s sketches, the counter they built and stained by hand.
I, for one, am super stoked about this new development. Vancouver has been a really exciting place over the last few years with the emergence of the plant-based scene. And this is just the next step up.
Be sure to stop by Blue Heron Creamery when they open their doors in Mid-February, and if you’re interested in learning to make dairy-free cheeses, Karen offers classes at the Italian Cultural Centre, or you can purchase her book (I recently got a copy and will be sharing recipes with you soon).