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Cheez whiz: A new plant-based product is born in Spokane

Start spreading the news: For Leo Walters, it is bon voyage for bread and viva vegan Cheez.

The owner of Glorious Artisan Bakery, which opened at 1516 W. Riverside Ave. in Browne’s Addition in 2019, has ended his business of baking artisan bread and is closing this Saturday his brick-and-mortar establishment, which also specializes in artisan olive oils and vinaigrettes, to go entirely online with his business.

But it is not just an in-store closure in Walters’ world, as the Kansas City native and Spokane resident of four years has launched Cheez, Spokane’s first fermented, plant-based and nondairy product to be produced in the Lilac City. And the cashew cheese is damn tasty, too, as Cheez’s tagline declares.

Cheez, launched on July 8 at Huckleberry’s Natural Market and My Fresh Basket and online at mmmcheez.com, is cultured with microorganisms found naturally in sprouted quinoa and fermented over 10 days to produce a tangy, flavorful product with a consistency like a soft goat cheese. Cheez’s inaugural flavors are original and black truffle, with salted lemon to follow soon.

“The original flavor is a nice, tangy cheese,” Walters said. “The black truffle flavor is really great. It’s rich and decadent and amazing on burgers or with barbecue and as a dip. The salted lemon will have big chunks of salted lemon that are bright and flavorful. It will be great with Mediterranean dishes and fish.”

Cheez had its start at Glorious last year when it was first used as a dip for parties and set out to be sampled with bread – and was immediately popular with customers. “Customers would have two reactions after tasting Cheez: ‘Oh my God, what is this? And where can I buy it?’ ” Walters said.

Walters suggests using Cheez as an accompaniment with “so many things.” For the black truffle Cheez, he favors burgers, barbecue, macaroni and cheese, pizzas and as a dip. For the original, it is across the board, Walters says, including dips, sandwiches, wraps, salads and barbecue and chili sauces.

Walters discussed why he is closing Glorious’ storefront after nine months and going online. “The company Glorious is still open, and I’m moving everything completely virtual. I’ve stopped baking the rustic artisan bread, and what this allows me to do is focus on other interests – with Cheez and, what I’m really passionate about overall, sharing and educating people about experiences around food.”

Walters, who has been vegan for four years and was vegetarian before becoming vegan, started the process to market Cheez in January, and it was a four-month progress until the final product was ready to go.

“Cheez is the first nondairy, plant-based alternative to be manufactured and sold here in Spokane. I’m so excited that it’s the first of its kind here in Spokane,” Walters said. “We’re proud of this fact, and as distribution of the product spreads nationally, we look forward to … helping educate people about the health and ethical benefits of plant-based alternatives.”

It is estimated that 65% of the world’s population has a reduced ability to process lactose after infancy. Additionally, more people are turning away from traditional dairy products due to environmental or ethical concerns about the dairy industry.

“The reception for Cheez has been incredible. I’ve kind of run out of everything, so I’m scrambling now to make more. It takes about 10 days to make a new batch,” said Walters, who is planning pop-up events and classes to share his new products in person when possible.

“It’s so beautiful to see people’s eyes light up when they see the possibilities of everything they can do at home with great-tasting, good-for-the-body products in their own kitchens,” Walters said.

Walters’ onsite Glorious Artisan Bakery and bread will be missed – if the customers, who stopped in and called while I talked with Walters on Saturday are any indication – but his new Cheez and continuing online business are something to celebrate in Spokane for him and the city. “Cheez is so, so good!” Walters said.

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