Praise 'Cheezes': Spreading Word on a Satisfying Dairy-Free Cheese Alternative

Plant Perks is healthy indulgence with more cheese flavor, less environmental impact.

Plant Perks founder Tiffany Perkins spreads words on her vegan innovation at a pre-Emmy Awards Party, Los Angeles

Many people experience game-changing epiphanies or realizations in their lives that prompt them to change course. For Tiffany Perkins, a University of Montana communications studies graduate, it was an intertwined passion for animal welfare and creating recipes from scratch that made her rethink her professional goals regarding a career with the NFL. Ironically, the product line that came from this change of field is an ideal NFL game day swap for dairy-based cheese.

"I wanted to be an NFL agent and interned with NFL Agencies in Minneapolis and Chicago," states Perkins. "After graduation, I got a job with the Chicago Bears releasing information about game day experiences. However, animal welfare and memories of my parents making three meals a day from scratch pushed me in a different direction, but I had to figure out how that would take shape."

Perkins' vision would fully ferment in 2016 after attending Matthew Kenney's Raw Vegan Culinary School in Thailand and spending a few days learning how to transform nuts into cheese. "A light bulb went off in my head when I realized that I could work on developing a super healthy vegan 'cheeze' that would be good enough to get more people to eat less dairy, which in turn would have a positive effect on their health, the environment, and the lives of cows, goats, and sheep, sparing them from a life of misery."

As part of the equation for Perkins' concept was to come up with sophisticated, palate-pleasing flavors that would get omnivores and vegans alike onboard, Perkins quickly realized that the development process required a lot of trial and error—and patience.

“It took me over a year to develop and finalize the ten flavors of cashew-based Vegan Cheeze,” Perkins, who is back in her native Montana running her business, explains. “As I am a perfectionist, I didn’t want to put these products into the universe until they were so close to their dairy counterparts that most people wouldn't know the difference. Before going to market, I had a few Cheeze-tasting parties where I put out all the products I created and had friends and family rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of flavor, texture, and favorites. I also launched my products at a local farmer's market first, in 2017, so that I could gather consumers' feedback on which flavors they loved the most."

Not long after the local debut of Plant Perks Vegan Cheeze, Perkins narrowed the team lineup to the four "MVP" flavors—Sriracha Cheddar, Dill Havarti, Smoked Gouda, and Garlic & Herb—and diversified the line by adding two plant-based dips in timelessly classic flavors—Buffalo Blue and French Onion. For 2022, the Missoula, MT, company is prepping for the release of plant-based versions of cream cheese, sour cream, and butter—and, down the road, an allergen-free line of "Cheeze wheels" duplicating solid cheese.

Perkins further explains that current and future Plant Perks goodies are crafted from organic, non-GMO ingredients and fairly-traded cashews (which are more expensive to source), and their manufacture results in zero byproducts and waste. Furthermore, she orders just enough raw materials that every single cashew, herb, and spice purchased is used in the products to avoid waste. She took an extra step to ensure 100% sustainable production by hiring special services to confirm this.

“Sustainability is always top of mind when creating new products. We subscribed to a compost service for a while until we realized we had zero product to compost, since everything gets used! We also make our products fresh each week depending on the distributor and website orders that came in the week before. This allows us to only make enough product to fulfill orders, which means nothing goes out of date or spoils. 
"[With packaging], I wanted to use glass jars for our products, but unfortunately they are too costly to purchase and ship. We currently use plastic containers that can be recycled, but I want to do more about this, so we are looking at subscribing to rePurpose, a company that helps brands like us create a net-zero plastic footprint by removing as much plastic waste as we create. I'm super excited about it and hope to have it up and running in early 2022.”

While these “cheezes” have higher price points, Perkins stresses that the consumer—who will willingly spend more on foods made sustainably and with better ingredients—gets his or her money's worth, from great taste to tangible benefits for the environment to unexpected health benefits. The recipes also factor in the addition of probiotics for better gut health, via the proprietary addition of MCT oil, a source of healthy fats that aids digestion; however, she's always on the lookout for ideas for improvement beyond these delicious spreads and dips.

While the pandemic has limited the number of brick-and-mortar stores Plant Perks are available in (and the website offers door-to-door delivery on some orders), Perkins and her team are thinking ahead to better days. This includes cherry-picking distributors who can help the brand launch into large retailers and national distribution with minimal environmental impact, and from there, picking retailers with customer bases that will support and pay a bit extra for the plant-based cheeses. 

“We need to make sure that people shopping at the retailers we choose value organic, whole food products and are willing to pay more for something that tastes indulgent but is better for the body, the environment, and the soul.”