Francesco, an Italian composer and I, an American chef, have always been vegetarians and at some point we chose to take a step forward and to become vegan together. It was years ago and I don't believe either of us remember the exact moment it happened. It was a natural transition from vegetarianism, where we simply began to substitute one household staple food at a time. We didn't feel the process was overwhelming, but we did struggled to find a good dairy free cheese we felt worthy of eating.
We left New York City for Italy, long before the vegan cheese pioneers in America opened up their shops and revolutionised the way people thought about vegan cheese. Until then, nut milk cultured cheese was only being made by raw veganists at home and it was something that we began to investigate.
We moved to Italy in 2001 and opened the first vegan cafe' in Rome's bohemian neighborhood, Pigneto. Our cafe was also a music bookshop and performance space for local artists. The walls were lined with rare sheet music, scores and music books. It was both a gathering place for vegans and artists who would share time with friends around recycled tables, vintage chairs and odd pieces of cutlery, sharing our equally eclectic mix of vegan food. It was in this small kitchen that we started experimenting with cultured nut milk cheese and using it in our own dishes.
We refined our cheesemaking by developing new methods for culturing bacteria, including that of making our own, along with various ways of aging cheese. We followed the progress being made with cultured nut milk cheese in America and we also had the fortune of living in Italy where some of the best known dairy cheeses in the world are produced. We learned traditional techniques used in Italian cheesemaking and applied these methods to produce our nut milk cheese, which gives it that authentic umami flavour. With some knowledge and experimentation using the cultures, we developed new recipes ranging from soft spreadable cheeses to more complex aged and air-aged ones.
In 2013 we moved to Glasgow with our two children and our twenty-three year old cat, Kitoo. We found Glasgow to be a lovely vegan friendly city, genuinely filled with plenty of vegan options in terms of food and vegan-only restaurants. We did realise immediately the vegan cheese offer was quite poor and most of what was available seemed to be processed like a laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong. We found the texture of most brands sticky or pasty and they left an unpleasant aftertaste you couldn't quite understand. We were quite put off by reading labels with long lists of ingredients. Surprisingly, cultured nut milk cheese didn't seem to exist anywhere in the UK. We were making cheese for ourselves at home but we felt more convinced than ever to produce our artisanal cultured cheeses for the public.
In the summer of 2015, we finally found the ideal premises for our dream business and opened our kitchen on Glasgow's Southside neighborhood of Govanhill. Our online shop was simultaneously launched and we immediately began to receive inquiries and orders. By December, we had sold out during our first day at VegFest Scotland and orders began pouring in for the holidays. At this point, I left my job as a chef for a well-known, multi-national restaurant to become a full time Nutcrafter or "Crafty Nutter", as The Fat Gay Vegan quoted us.
It's been an amazing beginning and we've literally been taken by storm. We've been nominated for "Best Vegan Cheese" by UK Vegan Awards 2016. We are creating new positions to help us meet the demands of our stockists and distributors. We currently have a distributor in France, one in the UK (soon to be announced) and we are in negotiations with another distributor of vegan products in Spain.
Our belief is that good cultured nut milk cheese needs to be more accessible to everyone. We never went into this thinking we wanted to create a luxury food product, reserved for wine and cheese parties. A good cultured nut cheese can be paired with an amazing variety of food or drinks and can be enjoyed anytime or anywhere.
Our friends will tell you that there is nothing that centers us more than coming together in our kitchen. Our kitchen is our creative space, our inspiration and ultimately our playground. After a stressful or long day, we have always found solace in sharing our space, cooking together and spreading our food out over the table for family and friends to enjoy. In keeping with the truest of all Italian traditions, we believe the table is a meeting place for good conversation and nurturing food.