You can be gloriously creative with cheese. Cooks can melt it, spread it, stuff it into and onto other foods and mix it with everything from fresh fruit to stinging nettles. There aren’t many rules that a master cheesemaker absolutely needs to follow. One, however, has always been that whatever you’re creating has to actually contain cheese. You might think this goes without saying. But a new shop in south London not only didn’t receive this self-evident memo, but is also intent on turning the cheese world upside down.
Sisters Rachel and Charlotte Stevens, who hail from South Wales, have caused quite a stir after opening the capital’s first dedicated dairy-free cheese shop. “La Fauxmagerie”, located a stone’s throw away from Brixton station, stocks and sells plant-based cheeses from around the country, providing Londoners with their first ever opportunity to enjoy a completely animal-free cheese experience.
Rachel and Charlotte, who are vegan and lactose intolerant respectively, have already made it clear that they have big plans for the business. Having only opened their doors this week, the duo have already stated that they intend to "work hard to ensure all our products are 100% animal and animal derivative free," while also making it clear that they have what it takes to make a success of the new project.
However, despite what the sisters claim to be a wave of optimism and support from interested potential clientele, the new opening has attracted some significant criticism from the existing dairy community. In a letter sent to the sisters, Dairy UK expressed their annoyance that the pair were using the word “cheese” to describe their product.
A spokesman from the organisation addressed the group’s concerns directly, stating, “"While we recognise there's a market for both dairy and vegan products, some of the information provided on La Fauxmagerie's website does not appear to be in line with rules which are in force across the EU protecting dairy terms. It concerns us that consumers are being misled with the use of dairy terms like cheese by the plant-based sector. Only products which are real dairy cheeses can use the term 'cheese'.” He went on to add that "Plant-based products are simply not dairy in any sense - from a taste or nutrition perspective.”
The issue over what words can and can’t be used to describe a product differs from country to country. Sky News report that, “In June 2017 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against non-dairy companies using words like butter and cheese in relation to their products.” However, they also add that the court “did not relate the ruling to some products including almond milk, coconut milk and peanut butter.” Given this confusion, it remains unclear how the current issue will resolve itself.
The Stevens’ have been quick to defend themselves, using their Instagram channel to reply, "We believe that by stating we are plant-based and 100% vegan in our tagline and all of our media we are not misleading our customers into thinking they are purchasing dairy products in any way. Nor are we making any comments on the nutritional value of dairy cheese." Regardless of whether or not it was intended, courts may yet decide that the use of “cheese” to describe something made from a nut is too disingenuous. Only time will tell.