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.
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.
I’m no stranger to making vegan cheeses. You’ll find lots of recipes on this blog for them, and my cookbook contains a few as well. But the kind of stuff Karen was doing–applying traditional cheese-making techniques to plant-based ingredients–blew my mind. Her cookbook, The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking, was published in May, 2017.
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.
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).