Vtopian is a small artisan vegan cheese company from Eugene, Oregon. Aptly named, one bite of their cheese will send you into a utopian state of foodie bliss! Generating business by tabling at local events and health food stores, they’ve managed to impress many with their amazing quality and taste. With flavors like Peppercorn Brie, Aged White Cheddar and even a drool-inducing Dark Chocolate Strawberry Brie, it’s not hard to see why this little vegan cheese company has succeeded in creating a big buzz on social media and high profile food blogs all over the internet. As a result, business is booming. You can find Vtopian in many vegan shops and restaurants on the West Coast, and online demand is ever-increasing. With the added appeal of a small-batch and mostly organic product, it’s no wonder why so many people are craving for a bite. To help keep up with rapid growth, the small business had a Kickstarter campaign a few months ago and raised enough to money to buy more equipment to help enable them to process more orders. In addition to keeping up with the pace, they’re meeting the demand for gourmet vegan cheese with new products! They’ve just launched their ingenious cheese wedges: Caramelized Onion Camembert, Macadamia & Cashew Camembert, Reserve Sharp Cheddar, and the Chive & Dill.
Imber Lingard, co-owner and creating chef of Vtopian was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule and tells us about how Vtopian got off the ground and shares her passion for showing people you don’t have to eat dairy to eat delicious, gourmet-worthy cheese. Plus, get a closer look at the new wedges afterwards, below!
How did the idea for Vtopian Artisan Cheeses get started?
It all got started after many people enjoyed the cheeses I was making at Cornbread Cafe, and they asked me to sell them.
What were some of the first steps you took to make Vtopian a business?
My partner and I, Mark Jordan, started the business without any loans and we were working day jobs, too. We started making cheeses in the vegan kitchen at Cornbread Cafe. Our license stipulated that we could only work when the cafe was closed which meant that we worked late at night, after working during the day.
That had to be rough!
It was very hard working at night to early morning and not getting much sleep, but people’s reactions to the cheeses and stores enthusiastic response to taking us on as vendors have kept us motivated.
What are some things you did to keep start up costs low?
Working in the middle of the night, and we always shopped around for the best prices on ingredients, kitchen supplies, etc.
Tell us how you created the Vtopian brand.
I really wanted the cheese to represent a Vegan Utopia and originally, we were going to call it Utopian Vegan Cheeses. Graphic artist, Lloyd Kern, came up with the name Vtopian Artisan Cheeses, and it was perfect!
How did you generate buzz in your community?
We did local tastings at the health food stores, and this helped create a lot of buzz!
How did you create relationships with other businesses to carry your product, or did they come to you?
A little of both. Some retailers came to us and we went to others. We also sent samples to those who requested them.
Tell us about the process of what goes into making new flavors and ideas come to life…
I am always working on new cheeses in my mind and I will be thinking of different flavour combinations and then will try them out. Not all attempts work out, but when they do, I get pretty excited about it!
I’m excited, too! What’s your favorite flavor of cheese Vtopian makes at the moment?
My favourite is one of the new wedges “Reserve Sharp Cheddar”. We are really excited about the new line of wedges!
Tell us more about your company’s ideals and overall goal…
We are very passionate about vegan cheese and want everyone to try it. It has been interesting in the last 10 months that we have been around so many people who like our cheese, but they are not vegan. Locally, we estimate that around 80% of our customers are not vegan. We want to show people that good cheese doesn’t have to come from an animal. We come across a lot of people who say that they would be vegan if they could only find a vegan cheese that they like. We hope to help these people go vegan.
When did you realize you needed to expand production?
We realized this when we were taking on more clients and found ourselves without sufficient storage and ageing room for our cheeses.
Tell us about your KickStarter campaign and what do you think made it successful?
We have been really thankful to all of the amazing people who have supported our Kickstarter. It’s just been incredible. I feel like people like supporting a vegan business and really want more vegan cheese out there!
Oh, we do! What are some practices you keep in order to nurture your relationship with customers?
We are very approachable and very big on getting back to people right away. We always listen to anyone’s questions or concerns.
What do you see for the future of Vtopian cheese right now?
We would definitely like to expand further and get over to the East Coast!
What are some tips and advice you would give to someone who is thinking about starting a vegan food business?
I would say that having your own business is a lot of work and to be prepared to work extremely hard. We work 80+ hours a week each. I would also suggest networking with other vegan businesses and getting involved in the local community. The world needs more vegan businesses! The animals certainly appreciate it! 🙂
Thank you again, Imber! Imber and Mark were kind enough to send me Vtopian’s new wedges in all flavors! Imagine how excited I was? Let me tell you, when I finally tasted Vtopian’s cheese it was love at first bite. These cheeses are a perfect addition to your next gathering with friends! Rich, creamy and delicious; not even the most ardent cheese lover will miss the dairy.
Caramelized Onion Camembert
This flavor was pleasantly sweet with the mixture of flavors from the onions and sweet balsamic glaze. It pairs well with savory items like arugula and marinated mushrooms, or try it with a variety of different sweet pears. It’s perfectly lovely on it’s own on top of a cracker with some cracked pepper, too!
Macadamia & Cashew Camembert
Delicately light and some-what sweet, this blend of macadamia and cashews is silky smooth on the tongue, and melts in your mouth. The aging process gives a nice subtle tang and depth that could again pair well with both savory and sweet items. I loved it with fresh tomatoes and herbs, and with raspberries and strawberries!
Chive & Dill Wedge
This one is easily one of my favorites. The strong dill and chive flavors marry perfectly well with the sweet undertones of the basic cashew cheese. This is a cheese that would work well for many hors d’oeuvres ideas, such as used as stuffing for pastry puffs, or top it with vegan caviar on a cracker! This would taste divine spread on top of a bagel or french baguette, too!
Reserve Sharp Cheddar
This cheese hits your taste buds with a buttery mild flavor and leaves you with a sharp tang. Traditional taste that pairs great with a selection of vegan meat options; perfect for your next sandwich!
Visit Vtopian’s website to order their amazing cheeses now! Have you tried Vtopian? What do you think?