How frauxmage achieved the “impossible”
Discover the closest plant-based alternative to real cheese
When Marie-Catherine Marsot was growing up in Rimouski, Quebec, the family fridge was always well stocked with jars of bacterial culture. Her father, who was originally from France, had put his PhD in microbiology to work to replace the loss of his beloved French cheeses.
“Bacterial culture was part of my early childhood,” says Marie-Catherine with a laugh. “I thought that was totally normal.”
Years later, after earning her own science degree, then serving in the military and on the Peel Regional Police force in southern Ontario, Marie-Catherine saw retirement as an opportunity to explore her passions. She loved food, and she enrolled in a chef’s course, where her enthusiasm attracted attention – she graduated at the top of her class at Liaison College in Barrie, Ontario, and the school offered her a position teaching a course on plant-based cooking.
She immediately put her family on a plant-based diet so she could learn as fast as she could – and she got some insight on vegan cuisine from people who’d been eating that way for years. Her students complained that there was no good vegan cheese – nothing approached the real thing.
“I know how to do that,” Marie-Catherine recalls thinking, and she called her dad. When she asked him to send her the bacteria and told him she was going to try and grow it on plants, he was skeptical. “My dad, the scientist, said there’s no lactose, there’s no protein. I said, ‘I don’t care, just send it my way.'”
An old summer kitchen attached to her Meaford farmhouse was about to undergo renovations to become a dining room, but MC called a halt. The uninsulated stone and brick room was the perfect cool and humid environment for growing cheese. She softened some cashews in water overnight, then added her dad’s camembert bacterial culture, nutritional yeast for flavour, salt, and a probiotic to kickstart the process. After a day of fermenting, she formed it into shape.
A rind started growing. “I was super excited. I kept sending pictures to my dad, and he thought I was Photoshopping it,” she says. Ten days later she brought the “frauxmage” to her students for a tasting. She recalls her first review. “They were amazed. It really boosted my confidence to keep innovating. People wanted to buy my cheese right there and then.”
The process hasn’t changed much since that first Botanic Cam wowed her students. When The Frauxmagerie moved to its first larger facility, MC had a frustrating period trying to recreate those perfect conditions in her naturally unique 300 square-foot “cheese cave”. But she kept at it, and through trial, error, and careful monitoring, found the solution. “We figured it out. We have it down pat for sure.”
With that trade secret, carefully secured in a cabinet for the last few years, now filed for patent, we can invite you in for a peek behind the doors of The Frauxmagerie for the first time.
Since that original cam, The Frauxmagerie has been certified as vegan, which has meant scouring the world for just the right ingredients. Most strains of bacterial culture for cheese were originally grown on milk proteins, but The Frauxmagerie sourced a supplier in France who could ship specialized cultures with no trace of milk to the Meaford plant. Likewise, the probiotic provided by a Canadian company, is made with Jerusalem artichoke, a North American sunflower, and contains zero milk products.
True to The Frauxmagerie’s artisanal roots, much of the process is still done by hand, though in much larger quantities than those early days. With products in more than 600 stores (as of early 2021), The Frauxmagerie produces a wide variety of vegan cheeses a day, consuming nearly 200 pounds of cashews every day. Containers line the walls. Multiple fridges, each set to a specific temperature and humidity for a particular frauxmage, store the frauxmage until it’s ready for packaging.
As customers in Canada, the U.S., and increasingly further afield are discovering, frauxmages have solved the problem Marie Catherine’s culinary students alerted her to. Finally, there’s a plant-based alternative with a look, taste, and texture that rival those of any real cheese.