Food Drinks

The Auckland mum making vegan cheese a viable option for Kiwi families

A curious mind and a love of food and nature led Savour creator Auda Finan to come up with a delicious range of cheeses that fits both the vegan lifestyle and the foodie dream.

By Nikki Birrell

For most of us, the daily grind means traffic, the office, work stresses, family commitments. For Savour brand creator Auda Finan the daily grind is literal. Hers involves just that – puréeing nuts every day for the 'milk' needed to make her range of organic, aged nut cheeses.

'Savour' is a word that comes up a lot in our conversation, and not just when we're nibbling on one of her eight incredible products (seven cheeses and a butter). It's a concept she likes to incorporate into all aspects of her life, from her morning meditation – "I find it's almost like savouring; it's very energising" – to mindful eating and moments with her family and friends.

She does admit that with the business as busy as it is, sometimes finding the time can be tricky. But even in her busy-ness, her philosophies shine through.

"It's fun to work here," she says. "It's positive, we're all happy – there's dancing, there's singing."

That feel-good factor permeates every corner of the enterprise.

Moving six years ago to a home in Sandringham, Auckland, that had plenty of space for a garden allowed Auda to get more involved with creating a health-giving diet from scratch.

Being a vegan and having three children, she's very conscious of nourishment. "As a mother, I really had to step up my nutrition and research," she says.

"I'd been making kombucha for over a decade, and I'd made sauerkraut, and then I started experimenting with fermenting other things such as coconut flesh for yoghurt. Then I discovered this wonderful thing: fermenting nuts and making cheese out of them. So I thought, 'Great! I'll look into this.'"

For vegetarians wanting to make the leap to veganism, Auda believes cheese is often what holds people back. She began to wonder if she could make a product that could help wean people off traditional cheese.

"I've been very strict in the past when trying to go vegan, and not succeeded. But now that I have my product, I didn't have to deprive myself when I weaned myself off this time. I really do believe that in any type of 'diet' you can't feel like it's restrictive because then you'll fail."

Her curiosity snowballed, she started testing out her experiments on her chef neighbours and eventually the idea came to go commercial.

"There are people out there who are willing to share their information and expertise. I'm so grateful to them," she says. But even so, the learning curve was steep.

"I knew nothing about how to make things on a commercial scale; I have no food technology background. All I have is my drive to do things. I will find a way to make it happen," she says.

That fierce determination meant hours spent researching into the wee hours, reading scholarly scientific articles on bacterial levels, but all her efforts paid off when the authorities approved her Custom Food Control Plan – her business had got the green light. "Oh, what a moment!" she says.

But food-safety standards aside (by the way, pregnant women are safe to eat Auda's products – soft cheeses are back on the menu!), the cheeses are truly delicious. Yes, they're vegan, but no matter your lifestyle, once you try them you'll realise they're delicious in their own right – as Auda says, "they belong on that cheeseboard". In fact, the majority of Auda's customers are not vegan.

Of course, you can also add the benefits of probiotics and the environmentally friendly non-plastic wrap to the feel-good list. There is cheaper packaging to be had, "but that's just the price I'm willing to pay. If I put it in a plastic bag, I'd get more profit, but it's not necessary and I don't think that's responsible".

Auda firmly believes there are different ways of doing business.

"For instance, I know other vegan cheese manufacturers here. We could view each other as competitors but, rather than that, we'd like to see ourselves as cooperatively working together for a common goal – and we do. We help one another out. I'm very pleased to be in a movement like that. There's enough business for us all."

When the objective isn't about money, "that changes everything", says Auda.

"Coming from an aspect of kindness, we actually want to make a change in the world. I want to make that change," she says.

This includes wanting to employ staff with special needs as the business grows, her young son included. "Who knows, if I get a big factory perhaps he'll even be driving a forklift. I can see him participating in some way in the future. I want that inclusivity."

And with more ideas brewing and bubbling away in that creative mind of hers, ones she's "itching to do", it sounds like a factory space might be needed sooner rather than later.

savour.co.nz

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