Have you ever felt like you’ve eaten a bowling ball...?
There's that a huge lump in your stomach that just sits there. That was me. I loved dairy – it just stopped loving me. After a lifetime of eating anything and everything, I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies.
Learning to cook in an entirely different way was worth the effort when it meant no more headaches. But like learning any new skill, the early months were filled with failures and frustrations.
Who knew that you couldn’t make gluten-free bread in a standard bread maker? And who knew that you couldn’t make gravy with almond milk? It just has too much water. Coconut milk is too sweet and do you really want gravy that tastes like oatmeal?
Non-dairy milk substitutes have always been a problem for cooking.
Most substitutes taste okay when used in coffee, but none work very well in recipes.
I wanted Gravy!
I couldn't just give up gravy! Sorry – that wasn’t an option. I had found new combinations of gluten-free flours that could simulate traditional flours in most any situation. I had learned there were many egg substitutes depending on how the egg was used in the original recipe.
But what to do with milk? Nothing I tried worked well enough for all my recipes. That just left one path...
So in 2019, I began to search for something better. After researching alternatives and discussing ideas with my chef (and food scientist) friend Eileen, and my engineer husband Chris, we started by doing experiments to figure out what made a good milk substitute. One of our first tests was “the pudding test”.
If you look at most pudding boxes at the store it will say right there on the pack of pudding “Don’t use milk substitutes.” As a baseline, I used whole milk. When it is made per the instructions, you can stand a spoon in the pudding. Any other choice, almond, soy, etc. you name it, not so much. None of them worked.
My husband and I did viscosity tests, boiling point tests, and studied all the ingredient lists of the various brands on the market. Finally we decided we would start our own experiments - but on what? Being from a hazelnut farming family, my friend Eileen suggested we try hazelnuts to see what they could do.
Many nuts and grains can be used to make a non-dairy milk substitute but hazelnuts have some unique properties that make them ideal for the task.
How much do you crave gravy?
Would you spend two and a half years developing a dairy-free milk? I did because I just had to have something that would work for my gravy and all my other recipes. There was just so much to discover. I'm no food scientist and even though I knew one, this was going to be my battle to win.
We started by trying the nut soaking and squeezing method; too slow and messy. We bought a specialized machine to help grind the nuts to a pulp and spin out the nutmilk. We quickly learned the nuts needed roasting before we could grind them.
We then spent many weeks developing the right way to prepare the nuts for roasting, then many more months developing a unique roasting profile to create the light flavor profile and slight sweetness that remains muted when used in recipes that uses dairy milk.
Mouth feel required many experiments and variations. If the grind was too coarse, there was a gritty mouthfeel. We bought more equipment to refine the grind particle size. Then we found the nut varieties were critical to get the best taste. Finally, we had to work to develop the light milk-like light color.
Finally after over a year of fooling around in the kitchen, we had something worth testing. We circled back to our original benchmarks. First, the pudding test. It worked! Then the real test. I made gravy!
"The first time I made gravy with our new milk substitute, I cried."
Eventually, we perfected our process and I began using it for my recipes...
When friends came over for dinner, they were amazed and wanted to try it for themselves. Soon we began sharing mason jars full of our milk with friends and family. They told us it was great and said "You ought to go out and sell this stuff".
So, silly as we are, we decided to see if there was a way to share this great new idea with people everywhere. Researching the permits, approvals. and paperwork was a challenge. We made our way through all that, but one issue remained. We're not some giant conglomerate with a multi-million dollar budget for a packaging line so we had to find a different way of delivering our dairy free delight to the masses.
We looked at bottles, cans and aeseptic cartons like everyone else. But then we came up with our unique package when we realized how much easier and efficient it was to ship and store the product in its paste form instead of making people buy it and store it as a liquid product. It takes up less room in the pantry and better yet, it's shelf stable.
For the consumer its a bonus as it allows you to control the water. Less water; thicker product, from whole to condensed milk and everything in between. Versatile and easy to use, it only takes a minute to blend into a wonderful substitute for milk or cream than the whole family can enjoy.
Now you know the backstory of how we came to make Cheri’s HazelCream.
We hope it solves your Dairy-Free cooking challenges and helps you create more great tasting meals that your whole family will enjoy.
Building for the future
We are starting with our 2 pack of creamy goodness but we believe there's more to come...
A lot depends on you, our current and future customers. As sales grow, many things are possible.
Please use our contact page to tell us what flavors and packaging you'd like to see in the future. It might just happen!