Last year, when Dara Lavallee joined a group of dairy enthusiasts to take an online cheese-making course, she was the only student choosing crops and calibrating the temperature to make cheese from plants. , especially cream of soaked cashew nuts. Instead of looking up, his classmates were mesmerized – and in awe.
” ” That’s wonderful ! “,” She recalled exclaiming on Zoom when she cut her wheel.
Lavallee had created what has become his signature brie – his proudest herbal creation. For anyone who avoids eating dairy products, cheese is among the most difficult to replace. Few alternatives have the right texture and the right pizzazz. A taste of Lavallee’s brie reveals that it does: it’s a dead ring in the flavor and feel of sticky French cheese.
Lavallee and her husband, Ric, started selling brie, then blue and feta style cheeses online and shipping them across the country. Catalyst Coffee Bar in St. Albans stored Dara’s produce in its cold case, and the couple built up a following.
When shipping delays related to the pandemic left them with too many shipments in shambles, the Lavallees decided to set up a physical storefront and expand their herbal-only offerings.
In March, they opened Café Nourish in the former Evelyne’s on Center bakery at 15 Center Street in St. Albans. Among the foods prepared in the display case, Nourish sells Dara’s cheeses, including a wedge of feta ($ 6.95) and a jar of chive and dill spread ($ 9.95), as well as bread and baked goods. The cafe also offers take-out; a few stools at the counters facing the front windows allow customers to dine.
The menu covers a range of standard American fare in plant form, including burgers, pizza, chicken wings, macaroni and cheese – which customers swear to be the real thing – and even vegan poutine with apples. of earth fried in the air. Dara makes the Nourish Burger ($ 9.95) from pea protein and makes a homemade sausage from a textured soy-based vegetable protein, sprinkled with spices for the right flavors. Her lasagna ($ 12.95) includes her own feta and ricotta, which she makes from ground almonds, and she can add any of her cheeses to Nourish flatbreads.
Some of Nourish’s selections taste more similar to their meat-based counterparts than others. The chili, a special item on the day I visited, boasted hearty meat derived from Beyond Sausage blended crumbles. real tuna, but made for a meal-worthy dip with Nourish’s Kalamata Olive Bread.
For the Chikin Waldorf sandwich, Dara mixes Mindful Chik’n with a dressing made of half plant-based mayonnaise and half tofu, resulting in a creaminess that balances the sweetness of the cranberries in the salad. Nourish also sells prepackaged brands: meatless deli slices from Mia and Plant Provisions, as well as Be-Hive pepperoni derived from seitan.
The dessert case is packed with cookies, cheesecakes, and bars, such as Chocolate Espresso ($ 4.25), which incorporates tofu for a silky, frothy consistency – as rich as any delicacy complete dairy. Last week, in anticipation of Halloween, Nourish gave away a cupcake topped with broken glass sugar lumps and bloody beetroot coulis in white frosting.
“We provide people with what they want,” said Ric. “We are trying to get them to get what they need to be healthy.”
The Lavallee use the term “whole plant-based foods” rather than “vegan” to describe Nourish’s niche. “The term ‘vegan’ keeps people away from food,” Ric said.
Many people still associate vegan consumption with salads, bland tofu, and unpleasant-tasting substitutes for animal products. Today, however, manufacturers of plant-based foods such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have broadened the appeal and reach of vegan options.
“Over the past five years we’ve seen tremendous innovations – some good, some not good,” Ric said. Critics have argued that heavy processing and excess sodium outweigh the potential health benefits of some fake meats.
Good or bad, the Lavallées credit the attention paid to new alternatives to meat to convince more people to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Some who had never considered ditching burgers and fried chicken think they might be able to help their bodies without sacrificing flavor.
Sales of plant-based foods rose 27% in 2020 to $ 7 billion, according to a study funded by the plant-based food industry and published in April. That eclipsed the 15 percent growth in overall retail food sales in the United States, according to the study.
Louise Fitzgerald of Swanton is one of the consumers behind this trend. After her husband had a heart attack in September, he changed his previous way of eating, she said last week as she had a few Nourish dishes for dinner – mushroom risotto with roasted vegetables (10 , $ 45), which was a daily special, and Thai noodle salad, one of the couple’s favorites.
Their old emergency restaurants and their plates full of meat and dairy products had to stop. Now she visits Nourish about twice a week.
“Our diets have definitely changed,” Fitzgerald said. “It has been a godsend for us.”
The owners of Nourish met in 2005 in Atlanta, where Dara worked as a special education teacher and Ric sold Wi-Fi systems for a telecommunications company. She liked her companion dogs first, then him, she said.
They got married a year later. Soon after, Ric decided he wanted a more meaningful job. He trained as a paramedic and continues to work for the St. Albans ambulance service – for satisfaction and for health insurance coverage – while helping his wife with coffee.
Before graduating as a teacher in Georgia, Dara studied at Cordon Bleu, the revered culinary school in Paris. “And it’s classic workout, so I could slice up a whole pig,” said Dara, who has been a vegetarian since she was 28. She then worked at an upscale restaurant and culinary academy in Los Angeles.
The Lavallees, who are both 62, moved to Vermont in 2015. Dara began making cheese shortly after taking a workshop on plant-based nutrition. On social media, she found a British cheese maker using cashew cream and discovered the good cultures, or bacteria, for specific types of cheese, the same way she would for dairy versions.
Ric still ate meat, but about five years ago he began to think about the people he declared to have died of cardiac arrest, some in their thirties. One day he came home from his shift and asked Dara, “Am I next? ”
Ric has type 1 diabetes and a family history of heart disease. Two weeks after taking that same plant-based diet workshop, he ate his last meat-based meal of beer and chicken wings.
Not all plant-based foods are healthy. Oreo cookies are vegan. The fries too. At Nourish, the Lavallees emphasize health. Some of their products contain no oil and little or no sugar. Dara makes an oil-free hummus and a fruit and oatmeal bar with no added sugar.
Many nutrition experts tout the benefits of olive and avocado oils as healthier alternatives to butter. The Lavallées subscribe to the doctrine that all oils, which are fats, contribute to arterial inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease.
“If you really want to know more, come on in,” Ric said. “We will introduce you to a new culinary world that will delight your taste buds.”
Customers have traveled to Nourish from as far away as Portland, Maine, and some from Burlington have become regulars, Ric said. The Lavallees plan to expand their restaurant with more seating, kitchen capacity for a week of heatable meals, and a place to host vegan wine and cheese tastings.
They would also like a separate plant-based cheese production facility so they can take on more wholesale customers – and Dara can continue to perfect her crops and nurture her flowering rinds.
“My goal,” she says, “is to have a factory to make cheese.