A walk down the milk aisle of the grocery store these days reveals plenty of non-dairy options — oat, almond, soy, coconut and even cashew competing for space and the dollars of a generation of people who no longer look to cow's milk as their go-to. For some, that's a personal choice; for Central Oregonian Cheri Redgrave, it was something of a requirement.
For years, Redgrave suffered from symptoms rooted in an autoimmune condition. After seeking help from her traditional doctors, she eventually sought the help of a naturopathic physician who put her through an allergy routine, finding that she was allergic to dairy, among other things. Omitting the foods that triggered her condition was a game-changer. Redgrave spent some time testing out recipes using the various non-dairy milks on the market, never quite satisfied with the level of creaminess the milks provide. As a self-described "cheese ball," things were looking pretty bleak.
"It was a whole life of doctors saying, you've got autoimmune problems but we can't help you," Redgrave said. But hearing that the problem might be rooted in dairy was a disappointment. "I couldn't think of anything that wasn't improved with cheese on it. I'd put cheese on a cookie!"
After two and a half years of experimenting in her own kitchen with the help of her engineer husband, Chris, she eventually came up with Cheri's HazelCream, using Oregon hazelnuts (or filberts, to the non-Oregonian) as the key ingredient. After many attempts at the right mixture, finally, things like creamy garlic pasta were back on the menu.
Unlike other non-dairy milks that come pre-mixed in a carton with a certain amount of water, Cheri's HazelCream comes concentrated, in a pod-like form, allowing home cooks to pop it in the blender and add a little bit of water to make it a creamier substance, or more water to make a milk worthy of a bowl of cereal.
Redgrave invited me to her home kitchen just outside Bend to try out some of the recipes she makes with the HazelCream, and as someone slowly converting off the dairy train and into a more plant-based lifestyle, I was impressed. Creamy garlic non-dairy pasta that doesn't skimp on the "creamy?" Yes, please.
"When you cook and bake with it, you don't taste the hazelnut. I didn't want gravy that tasted like coconut or gravy that tasted like oatmeal," Redgrave said.
The visit to the Redgrave house started with a cup of coffee – natch – topped with a dose of creamy HazelCream. Drinking it in the coffee did bring out the hazelnut a bit, but that's because coffee and hazelnut complement one another, the Redgraves said.
Next up was a nacho "cheese" sauce, served with chips, with all the creaminess of the dairy variety. Then it was on to a creamy garlic pasta. Using Cheri's HazelCream involves the extra step of adding the pods to a blender, adding the right amount of water and letting the blender do its thing for 1 minute, creating an emulsified mixture with the right amount of fattiness in the mouthfeel. (Hazelnuts, after all, have their own fat content that offers that element.) The effort in blending is worth it. Once blended, the HazelCream can be used in any recipe that calls for milk or cream, in the same proportions one would use a dairy product.
As Redgrave shared, "I even made sweetened condensed milk for my pumpkin pies this year!"
In the case of the creamy garlic pasta, I was full by the time I'd consumed half of my modest portion, but I pressed on because this creamy vegan goodness was just too good to let go to waste.
Still, Redgrave wasn't quite done. We finished off with a chocolate syrup poured over strawberries – the HazelCream once again offering a thick, full-bodied element to what could otherwise be a thin chocolate gruel if you tried this with other nut milks.
I was sold – though a product like this, shelf-stable and offered not in the traditional milk "carton," has been hard for grocery-store managers to wrap their heads around. Some put it by the baking supplies. Others put it near the nut butters, Redgrave told the Source Weekly. But wherever it's sold around Central Oregon, those seeking non-dairy options for cooking and baking should seek it out. It's a welcome innovation in an increasingly non-dairy world.
Redgrave and her husband Chris can be found delivering Cheri's Hazel Cream to customers in their vintage panel van, as well as at local events. Meantime, Cheri's Hazel Cream is available locally at Market of Choice, Food 4 Less, Newport Market, C.E. Lovejoy's, Central Oregon Locavore, Schoolhouse Produce and Prineville Produce. You just might have to ask each store where they display it.