Earlier this year, we sat down with JH, the founder and product developer of In A Nutshell, a local vegan cheese brand. Though JH, originally from the UK, has since returned to his home country, his brand is being continued by Joe and Alex Cole and they promise the same beloved product and service.
Like many Metro Manila-based, homemade healthy brands, In A Nutshell had its start in the Legaspi Village Market, known for its organic, local and healthy section that dominates a significant segment of stalls. “[It’s a] really friendly community of people who go to Legaspi a lot,” says JH. “They’re always really nice people who are really excited when there’s a new stall, so it’s a great way to launch.” Though he admits that their first day went rougher than expected (“We were completely overwhelmed . . . I was cooking toasties non-stop all day; we had a really bad system and a lot of people waited for a long time”), we chalk it up to his laid-back and accepting personality that kept people coming for more of his unique product that he makes entirely by himself.
Through the 2 years that JH has been running In A Nutshell, he has grown a lot since the “kind of horrible” first-time experience at Legaspi, which he looks back at with a laugh now. “I’ve learned a lot of things because I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never started a business, designed logos, attended bazaars . . . When I started out, I wasn’t a cheesemaker.” He has since become somewhat of an authority in vegan cheese, with the local vegan community looking up to him for his carefully-crafted cheese products that feel and taste remarkably close to the real thing that they could easily trick the tongue.
Surprisingly though, it is not the vegan community that are his main market, but rather people who are lactose intolerant (he explains that according to research, majority of East Asians are lactose intolerant) or people who are simply curious about vegan cheeses. The most common response he receives on the cheeses is shock and disbelief. “Everyone was really confused,” he laughs. “But I think most people, when they tried them, they really enjoyed it and were really surprised. They don’t expect dairy-free cheeses to taste good—I didn’t—but it turned out good. So lots of good surprises.”
For non-vegans who are curious about this dairy free alternative, JH asks to keep an open mind, saying, “It’s something new. It doesn’t have to be the same.” While it certainly does not match the stringy quality that is exclusive to cheese (thanks to the presence casein in dairy, JH explains), or the taste-linger that fatty foods tend towards, its textures and flavors are remarkably similar, with the chevre and boursin standing out as our favorites, and function similarly to dairy cheeses. “The carrageenan helps to give it the same texture and the soy milk ones are all meltable [and] firm enough to grate over pizza or slice onto crackers . . . the tofu gives [the feta] a nice crumbly texture similar to [dairy-based] feta.”
As for how to eat his tasty, “cruelty-free” treats, JH loves any of them on crackers. For the meltable ones, he recommends trying them on pizza or pasta, while the feta goes great on salads or pizza. The chevre, covered in rosemary and craisins, he believes i best served as a centerpiece with just crackers or bread.
IN A NUTSHELL
In a Nutshell is a local dairy-free cheese brand made from local cashews, non-GMO tofu, and soy milk.