CLARKDALE, Ariz. - Pair it with wine, some crackers, or just eat it plain - cheese is something many people do without.
Here in Arizona, the so-called "Vegan Cheese Queen" is making her mark with "virgin cheese" - your favorite snack without the milk and with all the flavor.
In the United States, around 70% of the population is lactose intolerant.
"That's why we went with virgin cheese," said cheese crafter Jodi Paige. "We keep it as pure as possible and use very few ingredients, and ours is very full of flavor."
Jodi Paige grew up in Scottsdale, but while living in Las Vegas seven years ago, she started eating a plant-based diet but was unwilling to sacrifice her love for some great-tasting cheese.
"At that time seven years ago, there were not that many national brands of vegan cheese in the market," Paige said. "And I tasted them all."
So she made her own cheese recipe with the help of a friend.
"I formulated off the base recipe, about 8 flavors to start," Paige said. "I've got 40 some odd flavors now. from cheesecakes and sour cream, cream cheese, taziki sauce, yogurt and keifer."
She started getting into farmer's markets, making auction baskets for nonprofits and before long, it turned into her own vegan cheese business. She calls in Virgin Cheese.
The cheese is made with organic cashew milk and organic refined coconut oil.
"We soak the nuts, we blend it, we flavor it, we culture it with probiotics, good gut bacteria, and then it puffs up and ferments as if you were making home yogurt," Paige said.
Now people can find Jodi in Clarkdale, a small town nestled in the beautiful Verde Valley. She makes everything at her shop at the Hopewell Mine on Main.
"The reception here in the Verde Valley has been beyond our expectations," Paige said,
Her hopes of becoming the "Vegan Cheese Queen" of the Verde Valley are taking shape.
"Our cheese is different and stands out because it stands on its own," she said. "You can just make an organic fruit and veggie cheese plate and have good bread, have good wine, and you're set."
Sales are up, and Virgin Cheese is shipping a few hundred rounds at a time almost every week.
"Vegan Essentials ships worldwide," she said. "GTFO It's Vegan sells our cheese worldwide. We have local partners."
Jodi hopes people continue to stop by her shop, try some cheese and stay for a while. She's working with local restaurants by helping them put vegan cheese on the menu, and when it comes to advice on making a product - Jodi says to stick with the basics.
"They're fail proof," Paige said. "I've used them for years, those simple recipes. That's the key."
Visit her website: https://www.virgincheese.com/
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