Guelph’s Green Goddess Fromagerie is quite possibly the only place in the world where you can find a vegan Marble Cheddar cheese—let alone a Blueberry Pie Stilton, or Herb & Peppercorn No-Goat. The Fromagerie’s non-cheese-makers use raw cashews, coconut oil, and a small handful of other all-natural ingredients to create beautiful and delicious vegan cheeses that are very true to their original milk-based counterparts.
What’s more, Ontario’s ongoing lockdown throughout 2020 has only inspired owner Morgan Mitchell to expand her customer base. Onside Media chatted with Mitchell this week while perusing the menu.
How did Green Goddess Fromagerie begin? Did you have any false starts?
Green Goddess Fromagerie started in my kitchen at home. I’ve always been a foodie, but when I transitioned to a plant-based diet. I felt like my creativity had been unleashed. I was cooking with and eating a wider variety of fresh and beautiful foods. I also felt amazing—however, the one thing that was missing was cheese.
At that time, the commercially available vegan cheeses were entirely unpalatable for me, and I had been a lifelong cheese lover. I knew that there had to be better options and started playing with culturing cheese in my kitchen. As I shared the cheeses that I had made with family and friends, I was encouraged to start selling cheese by my omnivore friends and family, who ate it without abandon.
In 2017, I moved to Guelph and found a great vegan community and very few businesses catering to their needs. Working out of a shared kitchen, I started to sell cheese with salads and pre-prepared meals on a weekly delivery schedule. Our customers’ reaction to the cheese was fantastic! We grew our offerings and added more kinds of cheese, and soon we added restaurants and retailers to our customer list.
Being on the menus of such great restaurants as Plant Matter Kitchen, Retour Bistro, Darnabati, and The Vegan Hippie Chick gave us exposure to a broader potential customer base. I partnered with another small business to phase out the prepared meals and focus on cheese.
In terms of false starts, it all has felt like a series of false starts. I would imagine that anyone in business will tell you the same. In the beginning, it felt like the false starts had accidentally happy outcomes. With perseverance, and eventually, some fantastic staff, the optimistic results have become consistent and intentional.
What was the biggest hurdle in between getting started and making money from your cheeses?
The challenge was having an appropriate space to culture and age cheese and finding the right equipment to convert the [traditional] cheesemaking process to culture cashews. We were in shared-space kitchens until August of 2020, ironically getting our start in a windowless, disused meat locker in an old sausage factory. Now that we are in a dedicated space, we can truly put down roots and grow.
As a vegan company, do you think you are naturally inclined to do things a bit differently than other businesses?
Our goal is to align our ethics with what we are putting on your table. In doing so, we consider if the ingredients that we use are sourced from non-animal ingredients and that they are fair trade and organic wherever possible. We pay our staff fairly and work with low-waste retailers and strive to find more environmentally-friendly packaging.
You have an extensive range of classically flavored cheeses. Where did you develop your palate for cheese? Was it around Ontario or during a European trip?
We offer a wide range of cheeses because cheese is delicious, diverse, and distinct—and we don’t feel that vegan cheese should be a compromise. We offer nine kinds of cheddars, three goat-style kinds of cheese, four stilton, a totally legitimate vegan halloumi that pan sears just like its dairy counterpart, Mozza that shreds and melts, cream cheese, and cultured yogurt.
My palate for cheese was developed with a select group of amazing friends. In university, we would demolish crusty loaves of bread with 3 of the most superior cheeses we could afford from our local cheese purveyor, with olives. It was our Friday evening treat, a standing “cheese party,” if you will. As we got older and could afford to travel, we had some amazing artisan cheeses in Québec, France, and England. There may have also been wine involved.
When I went plant-based, I didn’t want to be excluded from these beautiful experiences. Now, I bring the cheese, and there is still wine.
How has lockdown affected the company? Have you learned anything over the last year that is going to change the business in the future?
When lockdown hit, we had to change the way we do business entirely. Before the pandemic, the vast majority of our customers were restaurants. When lockdown started, the restaurants were hardest hit, which is so incredibly difficult to watch. So many friends and mentors who had built beautiful, community-minded businesses that supported their families and the families of their employees now were struggling due to something they could not have possibly foreseen.
For us to survive, we had to completely shift our business model to supply retailers. [The process involved] reconfiguring our packaging and portion sizes, investing in barcodes, and meeting the market of people who also enjoyed sitting home, eating cheese, and drinking wine.
I added an incredible manager, Daniella, who is organized, thinks past the horizon, and proactively solves the problems that I didn’t know we had. We’ve moved into a beautiful, dedicated space and invested in equipment that will allow us to grow and sustain our business. Our key learnings have been that even while facing adversity, there is an incredible opportunity if you change your mindset. Hiring the right people makes all the difference in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We absolutely love what we do, and we are so excited for the future!
Author: Mandy Gardner, Content Writer for The Onside Media, Canada. If you have any stories or comments, kindly email: –[email protected]