Janice Buckingham loves meat, butter and dairy, but you wouldn’t know it from ventures like Flora Fromage, her plant-based cheese company. A graduate of New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, she’s a private chef trained in — and appreciative of — classical French techniques and decadent ingredients. But when her diet began to influence her wellbeing, Buckingham’s philosophy and focus changed.
“I love traditional food, but I was having some digestive and skin and health issues that kind of forced me into looking into alternatives,” Buckingham says. “So that’s when my plant-based cooking was ignited.”
Cheese was the indulgence she couldn’t live without, and a quest to find dairy-free options led her to experiment with nut- and plant-based recipes. A process of creative trial and error ensued that was informed by her prestigious culinary background.
“A lot of the same practices that are used in traditional cheese making that we touched on in culinary school can be applied to dairy-free cheese and vegan cheese,” she says. “I started to include some of my cheeses on platters for clients, and I started to make [them] for friends. The feedback was so good that it just kept pushing me to think, ‘Maybe I should put this product on the market.'”
The market, Buckingham discovered, is full of lactose intolerant cheese-deprived souls, weary after years of abstinence and hungry for a cheesy fix. She says that Flora Fromage, which officially launched in early October of this year, has allowed them to reintegrate a food they have often sorely missed.
To create a convincing dairy-free cheese, Buckingham’s process takes time and care. Nuts are soaked in water and whipped for the right texture, while an added probiotic (lactobacillus acidophilus, if you want to be a nerd about it) provides a characteristic cheesy tang. It’s left to ferment for a day or two until it meets Buckingham’s standards.
Buckingham determined the flavours through taste tests and experimentation that turned her kitchen upside down. The four main flavours that emerged are apricot orange, smokey jalapeno, cracked black pepper and truffle, and garlic and herb macadamia. The delicately-wrapped 4.5-ounce cheese wheels resemble goat or Boursin cheese, with a consistency that is at once creamy and dense.
“The response has been better than I could have anticipated,” Buckingham says. “I think Calgary is ready for this, and for really tasty, indulgent, plant-based alternatives.”