Julain Molnar poses with an assortment of her fauxmage samples at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

A Fresh Start

New artisanal vegan cheese business proving popular with Islanders

For actress and singer Julain Molnar diving into the world of artisanal food production offered the opportunity for a fresh start. While such a sentiment may sound a bit cheese-y, it’s technically fauxmage-y. As the energetic, one-woman show behind Fresh Start Fauxmage, Molnar is making her mark on Canada’s Food Island with a brand new product, vegan cheese.

“I started with four flavours,” said Molnar as we chat over afternoon herbal teas at Receiver Coffee Co. She rattles them off—a smoked gouda-style, an extra creamy chevre-style, a baked feta-style and a Monk’s cheddar-style. “I was told to start with two, but when I did testing groups it was hard to identify a stand-out.”

Sales to date suggest Molnar made the right call, with customers buying up each of the four flavours.

“I’ve just added a pesto-flavoured Monk’s cheddar, and two cheesecake-style fauxmages as well,” she said. I smile and nod, recalling the samples of these divine new creations I had tasted at her Charlottetown Farmers’ Market booth the previous Saturday. She tells me she’s decided to drop the ‘cheesecake’ descriptor, as customers are reporting many different uses for the sweet treats and she doesn’t want the name to limit their imagination.

Fauxmage board featuring a selection of Molnar's creations.

Fauxmage board featuring a selection of Molnar’s creations. // Photo Credit: Richard Schroeter/Salty

When I met Molnar in early December of 2016, she was introducing her idea of an artisanal vegan cheese line to fellow participants of Food Island Partnership’s Food Excel program, a 12-week accelerator designed specifically to support budding Island food entrepreneurs. I was not surprised when she was chosen as one of the seven finalists to compete for program’s the $30,000 grand prize. Her energy and smarts combined with a unique product in the niche, but quickly-growing category of vegan food were a triple threat.

In the few short months since December, Molnar’s taken her dream of being an artisanal food producer from the home kitchen to commercial production, a feat she credits to the Island’s “incredibly supportive culture”.

“Riverview Country Market’s really the reason I’m doing this,” Molnar said. Upon returning to PEI from a four-year stint living in Ontario, where she could source locally-produced artisanal vegan cheese (she’s not a fan of the grocery store vegan cheese brands), Molnar went into Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown, hoping to finding a similar offering. “I asked if they stocked it and the young man at the counter, Jacob, said no. We started talking and I told him I could make the product if they’d be willing to stock it. He took my details, Crystal [Hardy] called me back and that was how it all started…they were so supportive. They gave me the opportunity to develop [the fauxmage] by providing me with a place to sell it.”

With the green light from Riverview and the guidance she received from the Food Excel program, Molnar soon found herself on the fast track to commercial production. A first meeting with Joy Shinn at BioFoodTech proved extremely fruitful. “She’s my angel of mercy,” Molnar said of Shinn.

Soon Molnar was setting up shop in the company’s commercial kitchen and working with Shinn and the other food scientists to perfect her vegan cheeses. All of her current fauxmages have a cashew, coconut, or almond base and in addition to being vegan are also gluten-free.

While this venture is Molnar’s first foray into commercial food production, she’s used to trying on new hats. Molnar spent the past three decades performing on stage, including on the mainstage at the Confederation Centre. She has also spent time volunteering at the Toronto Humane Society and working on a horse farm in PEI, both fitting gigs for the animal lover and animal rights advocate.

Launching Fresh Start Fauxmage is a means of feeding her desire to help provide people with tasty, alternative food options that are ethically produced she said. A plant-based eater herself, Molnar has discovered one of the greatest perks of her new venture is the gratitude expressed by her new customers. “It’s been incredibly overwhelming. People run up to my booth excited,” she said, “so many thank me for developing this.” She relates how one woman with lactose intolerance ended up with tears of happiness streaming down her face after trying Molnar’s fauxmage.

“It’s about a 40:40:20 mix,” said Molnar after doing some quick mental calculations to estimate the ratio of her customers that are vegan, dairy intolerant or don’t fit in either category, respectively.

Molnar recently secured space at the popular Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, thanks to Hans Wendt and Angel McKann of True Loaf, who offered to share some of their booth space with her. Come warmer weather, she’ll have her own booth outside. She also has plans to set up at the new night market opening in mid-June at the Farm Centre.

“Customers are finding all sorts of ways to use the [fauxmages],” she told me. The products are also finding their way onto Island menus, including John Pritchard’s Burgertown pop-up and Riverview Country Market’s new café, where they’ve created a vegan lasagna and are working with Molnar to create other appetizing, vegan-friendly/dairy-free offerings.

As Molnar gets ready for a busy summer that includes performing in The Charlottetown Festival and continuing to build Fresh Start Fauxmage, she’s excited about what the future holds. “A few months ago I had a dream to have a little booth at the farmers’ market and be selling my fauxmage,” she said. With that dream realized, she is setting her sights on expansion of her product line and distribution to other parts of the Island and beyond.

“It’s going to be an amazing Christmas season,” she said. “I’m doing the right thing. I love it.”

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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