The Uncreamery is San Francisco’s first vegan creamery that makes award-winning artisinal vegan cheeses that slice, shred and melt like their dairy counterparts. The owners are Lisa Myaf and Mark Charette.
Thanks so much for doing this interview Lisa. Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from? What’s your background?
I am originally from Russia and moved to the US about 10 years ago. Mark grew up in Massachusetts and moved to the Bay Area about 15 years ago for culinary school.
Have you two been vegan a long time?
We went vegan almost at the same time about three years ago. I may have fully transitioned a month earlier as the cheese was the last thing left for us to quit. Nothing on the market at the time could satisfy the craving. It was a harder transition for Mark as he was one of those “I can never go vegan because of cheese” people.
First, we were pescatarian, then vegetarian, then we went vegan once we fully disengaged from dairy and we started making our own palate-pleasing cheeses.
What was the reason you both went vegan?
Animal abuse is just wrong no matter how hard they try to sugar coat it. I always thought eating meat was wrong but I started living on my own and was able to make my own food choices. Then, of course, I learned that the dairy and egg industries are far from innocent. I am a vegan because all animals should be treated equally. Vegan for justice, I’d say?
We used to be pescatarian because my philosophy was to eat only things I could potentially kill with my own hands. At some point I was at an Asian supermarket and they were selling live turtles and frogs. I saw a frog with a missing eye and felt for sorry for the poor thing. Turtles were “pets” in my head so I felt terrible for them being sold for food. That’s when the understanding came that if I feel sorry for a frog and a turtle, I shouldn’t eat seafood either.
How long ago did your business idea come about?
The Uncreamery was born about two years ago. Since we knew very little about running a business, we went through the La Cocina incubator to set up the business. I quit my job and started researching vegan foods and cheeses specifically.
La Cocina is a non-profit which supports women, immigrants, people of color and low income folks. The benefits of teaming with La Cocina is being part of their strong community and accessing their pro-bono services such as training on finances, production and marketing.
Which nuts do you use for your cheeses?
We use cashews for brie and almonds for blocks.
What are you doing for customers with cashew or almond nut allergies?
We are planning to add sunflower based products to our repertoire soon. We have tested our Sunflower Pizza Jack on mylkguys.com and are going to bring it back.
How many different types of cheese flavors will The Uncreamery offer?
Right now we offer five flavors: Classic Brie, Truffle Brie, Smoked Gouda, Ghost Pepper Jack and Dill Havarti.
We present many new flavors at pop-ups and sampling events to gauge the response. We are planning to add 4-5 new flavors slowly to our list.
What makes your cheese different from the other vegan cheeses on the market? It seems there are a lot now.
There are many cheeses on the market, indeed. What makes us unique is the use of both traditional cheese making techniques along with modern molecular gastronomy.
Most cheeses on the market are either the cultured kind or the mass produced kind that is made mostly with starches and oil. We choose the ingredients in a specific way to mimic flavor, texture and other qualities of dairy counterparts, that melt, shred and slice easily. Also all of our cheeses are 100% hand-made. We turn nuts into fresh milk for every single batch. We also use three different sources of umami to achieve maximum flavor.
Since it’s so new for you, what do you enjoy and dislike about entrepreneurship so far?
I suffer from severe anxiety so every single step about starting a business was very stressful, but worth it.
I couldn’t do it without strong support from my partner Mark and the community. My favorite part is probably trade shows and sampling events, where we get to see people’s honest reaction upon trying our products. That’s what I live for.
Tell us a little about the dynamic you and Mark have. What are the skills each of you bring to your business?
Mark is a chef and the backbone of the kitchen. Everything I learned about food was through Mark and hours of extensive research. I handle the business side and help in the kitchen as much as I can.
We often cook together and love veganizing hard-to-veganize recipes. Basically, I am strong at research/theory and he has all the right skills and experience to bring our ideas to life.
OK … this is my last question. Why did you and Mark pick cheese to focus on rather than anything else?
I felt like there was a void to fill with quality vegan cheese so it was natural for us to specialize in vegan cheeses. We have plans to include vegan charcuterie meats to our line. We are also recipe testing for vegan salami and pepperoni, even presented them at recent events.
If vegan cheese helped us transition to veganism we hope it will help many others.
You can find The Uncreamery cheeses at The Market, Rainbow Market, Vegan Picnic and MylkGuys.com. The Uncreamery will also be at the 2nd Annual Animal Run at Point Pinole on July 21st sampling and selling their wonderful cheeses.