Céline Land’s cutting board is stained red with the juice of cherries and strawberries. It’s a common problem this time of year, when the fruits are in season and it’s too hot to turn the oven on.
Land and her son Félix, 9, are standing side-by-side in the kitchen of their south Winnipeg home assembling a summer staple: bruschetta with cherries, strawberries, fresh basil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a crumble of vegan feta.
"It reminds me of being young and picking berries — sometimes I think we ate so many berries that was our main diet," the owner of Vegan Fromagerie says with a laugh. "You just knew that in a few weeks that was it, there wasn’t going to be anymore."
"I just like the feta part," Félix says, while garnishing the dish with a generous spoonful of the cheese made from organic soy milk.
It’s been 17 years since Land has eaten an animal product and Félix has been vegan his whole life. Growing up on a hobby farm in rural Ontario with horses, chickens and pigs, she’s seen how livestock are treated first-hand.
"I’ve seen their whole life cycle," she says. "As I became older, I started doing more research… I always thought that when they lived on happy farms, they were slaughtered at the farm. I didn’t realize that they all went to the same (slaughterhouse)."
“We’ve always talked about where food comes from, where meat comes from and how animals are housed… I wanted to raise him with the same compassion that I would want to show animals.” ‐ Céline Land on her son's veganism
A lifelong love of animals, and the disturbing abuse case of a stray cat named Kensington in Toronto, set her on the path to veganism.
Félix has followed in his mother’s footsteps. Cats are a favourite topic of conversation — the Lands share their home with three feline friends — and he’s wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a bespectacled tiger during our visit. Félix likes knowing where his food comes from and veganism has armed him with a plethora of knowledge he’s eager to share with friends and classmates.
"I usually tell them the crazy parts, like that bees vomit honey," he says. "And I’ve told them many things about sausages."
"He’s a small advocate with a large voice," Land adds. "We’ve always talked about where food comes from, where meat comes from and how animals are housed… I wanted to raise him with the same compassion that I would want to show animals."
Vegan cheese entered the picture shortly after Félix was born. Land, who is a single parent, had worked as a doula and with the railway for years, but felt compelled to find her life’s passion. Food seemed an obvious choice.
She attended an eight-week vegan culinary course in Portlan, Ore., and started making dairy-free cheeses at home. Her goal was to create gourmet alternatives to the terrible vegan cheese that was on offer when she first took up the lifestyle. She shared her products with friends and, without the cashflow to rent a commercial kitchen, started selling cheese on the "black market" (read: out of her home kitchen).
Land has since gone legit, partnering with Generation Green’s Acorn Cafe to sell and serve her products, which include everything from cream cheese to mozzarella to Muenster. Her feta, which captures the tang and texture of the real thing, is a fan favourite.
It takes about a day to whip up a wheel of cheese, many of which start with a base of raw cashews or soy milk. She hopes to add fermented vegan cheeses to her menu in the future.
Land is making cheese full-time these days and has hired an assistant to help with the process; her products have also garnered interest from local grocery stores and restaurants, such as the recently opened Shorty’s Pizza.
"It just felt like a huge step to know that my cheese is on a pizza," she says. "I’ve always kind of wanted that."
Feeding others is the next frontier, but cooking at home with her son has always been the foundation.
"Félix has been in the kitchen with me since he was young," Land says. "I think it’s important to teach our kids how to cook."
While he’s confident chopping vegetables with a knife and rolling dough, Félix’s preferred — and highly relatable — kitchen activity is "stealing a bite of the food."
Visit generationgreenwpg.com/vegan-cheese to order from the Vegan Fromagerie.
Vegan Summer Bruschetta by Céline Land
Free Press food and arts reporter Eva Wasney makes Céline Land’s recipe for vegan summer bruschetta.
225 g (1 1/2 cups) chopped strawberries
150 g (1 cup) pitted and chopped cherries
20-30 g (2-3 tbsp) red onion, chopped finely
60 ml (1/4 cup) fresh basil, chiffonade or chopped
10 ml (2 tsp) balsamic vinegar
2-3 cloves or garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
4 oz Vegan Fromagerie feta
1 baguette, sliced thick on the bias
Mix strawberries, cherries, onions and basil together. Toss with the balsamic vinegar (or add more to taste).
Toast the baguette. While still hot, rub the smashed garlic into the bread. Add generous amount of the bruschetta filling to bread. Top with crumbled vegan feta.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.