Michelle Byrt: Culinary Arts, Covid & Cheeze

by | Apr 20, 2023 | Arts & Life

On the south side of Edmonton sits one of the few vegan places that survived the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020. Good Stock Foods (11409 40 Ave) is a family-owned business run by Red Seal Chef and NAIT grad Michelle Byrt (Culinary Arts ’09). 

Formally a café style plant-based restaurant, Good Stock Foods had to pivot in 2020. After the first lockdown, they suspected COVID-19 was not going away. Adapting on the fly, they changed from 50 per cent take-out to 100 per cent take-out, turning their dining room into an M&M style vegan take-and-bake shop.

That was not the only way Byrt adapted to a changing world. She created Prairie Melt, a simple dairy-free plant-based “cheeze.” It only has five ingredients: potatoes, canola oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and salt. 

“I saw a need in the restaurant industry for a dairy-free cheese that works and isn’t too expensive,” Byrt explained. “I focused on making it allergen friendly. The allergens are exploding right now. It’s nut-free, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy free.” 

The name, Prairie Melt, hints at the unique feature of this product: it melts. It may seem like a requirement for a cheese to melt, but many vegans understand the struggle of finding a cheese substitute that replicates the texture and meltability of dairy-based cheese. 

“It took a few months of trial and error; there is a bit of a process to actually get it to melt. The ingredients are pretty simple. Getting the combination right is really tricky because you need it to melt,” explained Byrt. “You need the right combination of potato and oil, then figure out the temperature that it melts. Once I had all the ingredients worked out, it took a really long time to figure out the exact ratio. I had to study how much fat content cheese has, and how much salt content it has. It’s not exactly like cheese, but it does have that same mouth feel.” 

Cultured dill and onion cashew cream cheese made by Good Stock Foods. Photo supplied

Byrt sells Prairie Melt exclusively through Good Stock Foods, but many local restaurants serve menu items that feature it as well. Stop by Next Act Pub, Stone & Wheel Pizzeria or the 3 Amigos to try this product without committing to buying a whole 900 gram container. 

Prairie Melt isn’t the only vegan cheeze Good Stock produces in-house. While toiling in an unforgiving kitchen, Chef Byrt spent years perfecting a 30-hour process to make a cashew cheeze—a product that only contains cashews, vegan probiotics, herbs and spices. It’s another dairy-free, gluten-free, plant-based alternative that goes well on bagels, charcuterie boards, crackers, sandwiches and anything you would put cheese on. It comes in four flavours: dill & onion, truffle, italian herb and garlic, and spicy chili garlic. But be warned, this isn’t a cheeze for those with nut allergies.

Currently, Bryt and her family are working on getting both cheezes produced at a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and federally inspected facility to expand to various grocery stores and beyond farmer’s markets. In the meantime, stop by Good Stock Foods to enjoy a vegan-friendly take-and-bake after a hard day of classes. 

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