Chris Rayman, founder of Sproutcraft Creamery, is one of our favorite plant-based chefs. He is an incredible alchemist of all things fermented and one of the best dairy-free cheese makers we know! His kombuchas are out-of-this-world delicious, his fermented plant-based cheeses are utterly craveable, and he adds special touches of wild Ojai flowers and produce that makes every cheeseboard a work of art! We are so excited to be sharing this interview and getting into the mind of talented plant-based alchemist Chris Rayman.
What was your inspiration for creating Sproutcraft Creamery?
I've always loved the deep flavors that exist in well-aged cheeses and found it hard to come by in plant-based cheeses available in the market. Like so many processes in life -- if you want what's best you generally have to create or do it yourself.
When did you make your first plant-based cheese? What is the most popular cheese that you make?
My first cheese experiments began while I was living in New York City and working as a young chef around 2009. I first learned about Ann Wigmore and her work at Hippocrates Institute where she taught years ago about fermenting nuts and seeds to make fresh cheeses, yogurts and sauces. She was a health pioneer and taught extensively about the health benefits of fermented foods and their vital role in maintaining a healthy gut ecosystem. The most popular of the cheese we make are the Camembert Brie, Smoked Cumin Cheddar and the Black Garlic Gouda.
How long does it take to ferment these cheeses? Are they similar in any way to dairy cheese?
Fermentation times vary based on the style of cheese; for instance, cream cheese gets fermented for longer hours to help create the sharp sour lactic tang it is known for and gouda gets fermented for a shorter period of time to help create a "sweeter" yeast type flavor. Aging times range from 1 week to 3 months and beyond. Some of the process is similar to that of dairy cheese in that some of the same cultures and molds are used to impart flavor. Also, in the way that they are cured/aged by using salt and brining to help control the pH, and moisture to encourage a healthy rind to develop. Temperature and humidity also play a crucial role in the aging process just as with dairy-based cheeses.
How does the location of Ojai inspire the foods that you make? How important is it that the plants/foods you work with are organic?
Ojai has inspired and informed the cuisine that I make by having really great connections with farms in the area whom I have built strong relationships with over time. I make weekly trips to different farmers markets to gather produce and search out for the most vibrant items in peak season. It is highly important to be working almost exclusively with organically grown foods as I only would choose this for myself and rarely make any exception otherwise to not. There are farmers out there who a lot of times grow organically but are not certified and this is when an exception is made. For our cheeses we choose 100% organically grown. I believe that it produces a tastier, cleaner and chemical free product in the end. I think in general foods tend to age better when they are organically grown and processed.
Where can people go to experience your food?
To access our goods our website is sproutcraftcremery.com. We also offer private event services and run multi-course pop-up style dinners gatherings. Our Instagram is @sproutcraft_creamery. We will be announcing new stockists and locations soon so stay tuned!
What is your favorite meal to cook at home? And can you share a simple recipe with us?
One of my favorite meals is caramelized sweet potatoes with shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and tahini sauce. I also love making homemade natural levan pizza dough from scratch. Generally, I enjoy simple meals that utilize the ingredients I have around and contain a little magic fermentation alchemy to keep it live.
Fennel Slaw with Cashew Aioli
For the aioli:
In a high speed blender combine
1 cup soaked cashews
¼ cup grapeseed oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
⅓ cup filtered water
2 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar
½ clove garlic
½ teaspoon salt
Blend until smooth, add more water if needed for blending.
In a bowl combine:
1 quart shaved fennel
½ cup aioli
season with salt and fresh black pepper
Who and what are currently inspiring you? muses, artists, foods...
I am currently inspired by the teachings and ways of indigenous cultures. So much of the history and heritage of indigenous peoples has been suppressed and written off. Native tribes have always chosen to work with nature rather than against and strive to live this harmonious way by embracing it: Fostering a deep connection to the sacred and unhinged by the confines and dogma of modern religion.
What are some of your favorite herbs to work with?
I love working with: holy basil, shatavari and papalo. All have a very unique flavor.
What is your favorite part of the process of fermentation? What does fermentation do to food and drink?
My favorite part of the fermentation process is the very beginning stage of prepping ingredients. Whether grinding grains or nuts or shaving vegetables; everything revolves around going about it methodically with extreme care and intention. The process itself breaks down sugars, proteins, fiber and starch rendering it much more easy to digest by the propagation and proliferation of microbes and air borne yeasts. At the same time flavors tend to accentuate and sharpen and with this transformation umami notes locked away become expressed outward.
We have seen you use the most beautiful flowers on your cheeseboards and in your salads. Do you have a favorite flower or two (or three)? Where are they foraged from?
Some favorite flowers I like to incorporate as garnishes are: calendula, dianthus, nigella, borage and nasturtium.
Something / somewhere you are looking forward to as travel resumes?
Once travel resumes I am looking forward to traveling to Italy to visit a fellow chef there.