Caju Winds – Dairy-free cream cheese? Delicious!

Written by Janet Davies

Paula Teixeira Leite has had quite of a journey from South America to Prince Edward County. Born in Brazil, she immigrated to Canada, studied remotely in the Yorkville University in New Brunswick and lived in Toronto before events brought her to Smugglers Cove – of all places – in a remote corner of The County. “We discovered Prince Edward County by accident,” she laughs. “Literally because of an accident” Now we live here and we are so happy.” Once in The County, Paula started a small business, Caju Winds, making organic, vegan, gluten-free and fermented spreads that has people swooning with pleasure. Caju Winds is the first non-dairy “cream cheese” alternative invited to take part in The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Paula told us her story, after carefully spelling out her name to help me get it right.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

“My daughter and I are lactose intolerant. That is why I started this business. I have been dairy intolerant since I was a child, but who knew? I would feel awful, but it was not diagnosed, and as a child you don’t do research, you don’t have the information. I spent my life suffering the consequences of being dairy intolerant. When my daughter was one and a half, she started to show the same symptoms. I went to a doctor who said, it’s okay, it’s just her immature organs, give her this natural laxative and she will grow out of it. But something inside me said no.  As a mom I wanted to figure it out, I knew it was related to me, and medication was not the answer. So we went completely vegan, for two years. I cut out everything you could possibly imagine. As the symptoms began to completely disappear for her, and for me, I slowly reintroduced certain foods and, sure enough, it was the dairy. I cut all dairy from our lives, and after thirty years I had relief, and my daughter’s symptoms were completely gone. That is why Caju Winds was born.

But I like cheese! I tried dairy-free cheese alternatives from the supermarkets and they tasted like rubber! I could not eat that stuff. So, I enrolled myself in a raw vegan culinary course in the U.S. and started educating myself on how we could eat well without dairy, flour and the refined sugars. This meant I had to learn to cook all over again, because that was not my background. I learned to cook with my grandmother and mother, and it was all about the sugar, flour, fat and dairy. In my journey through cooking I discovered some delicious way of eating and I began to play around with flavours and when I learned to ferment, that is when I really started to have fun. Friends were begging me to let them buy my spreads. I was afraid because I didn’t have a commercial kitchen – you can’t just sell food without license in Canada. So they would invite me to come to their house and I would make the spreads for them there! I realized that I had something good, that people wanted. I also make my spreads gluten-free, too, because my personal friends have gluten problems. I wanted to make a good clean product with organic, simple ingredients that people can feel good eating. And more importantly, I wanted to make delicious products that everybody could enjoy.

THE NAME CAJU WINDS

Caju is the Portuguese name for cashew. (note: they speak Portuguese in Brazil!) Cashews are the creamiest of all nuts and when you ferment them, the taste is very delicate.  What is my logo? It’s a tree! A tree with cashews at the top and the trunk is like a “w” for winds. A friend I have known since high school is a branding person behind the logo and labels. She made everything very colourful because that’s how she sees “Paula” Also, the colourful part reflects my background as Brazilian because it always make me think about our exotic birds and the colours of Carnival.

THE PROCESS – SOAKING & FERMENTING

“My cashew spreads take three days to prepare. Soaking time, fermenting time and on the third day I put all the spices together. Soaking is very important because it makes the nuts easier to digest. A good cleaning and rinsing are also crucial part of the preparation to remove any dirt. Not all products out there like mine do this. An industrial scale business may not take this extra step, because it adds labour and time, but I truly believe in the benefits of doing so. Soaking lets the nuts take up some water, too, and that makes them easier to grind, they are softer and make really good paste, really good nut butter.

The taste? My nut butters do not taste as almond or peanut butter as people expect. This adds a nice surprise for people who come to my booth for sampling. People love the creamy/ silk texture and the subtle nut flavour. Kids also love to have my delicate flavour as a vegetable dip. My cashews spreads are so versatile that you can cook with them or make a very rich sauce for salads and pasta, for example

SOURCING ORGANIC CASHEWS

“I only use organic cashews in my products and I keep the proper certification on hand. Even some of the farmers’ market organizers ask for organic certification if you are claiming to be organic.  I buy almost all my ingredients from Organic Matters, a big supplier in B.C. and most of my nuts come from Italy. Some people ask me where cashews come from or even why it is sourced in Italy, and they are surprised to know that the nut is part of a fruit that grows on a tree in tropical climates. Cashew is a sweet fruit and we, Brazilians, eat its meaty flesh and drink its juice as well. The nut sits on the top of the fruit and it has to be very carefully removed because the outside is a little bit poisonous. Mother Nature is clever! She protects her fruit from the birds.

WHY PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

“Okay – How did I hear about The County? Truly it was an accident. We lived in Toronto and had bought a big trailer to do some traveling. But I had a little accident with the car so we couldn’t go anywhere and we were stuck with this 32 foot trailer parked on the street. The cops were very interested. Neighbours were all looking. So we had to find somewhere to put it! It was late in the season, everywhere was full. The only space available was in a place called “Smugglers Cove” in the south of Prince Edward County. We didn’t know anything about it but we had no choice. So, we came and parked it here and did not pay much attention that first time except that it had been a very nice drive. But when we came back one week…and another week, we started to fall in love with the place. We came every weekend since then and on Sundays we didn’t want to leave. We didn’t want to go back. I visited all the farmers’ stands and I talked to everybody and went exploring and we loved it. One day we just snapped. We said you know what? I don’t want to leave! Why do we have to live in Toronto? Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and I loved my neighborhood there, but in the city, people move a lot. You meet your neighbours and in two or three years they flip their home and move. So we never really made a strong bond with anybody outside my personal circle of friends. In Brazil, people buy a home and live their entire life in it and you know everyone, your neighbours become part of your life as well. This aspect of Canadian life was the most difficult to adapt.  In the city it was all go-go-go and not forming attachments. I didn’t want this for my daughter and for myself.
The more we explored The County the more we realized this is what we wanted. I loved the peace, too. I have a hearing problem and I can barely hear on my right side due to a Meniere’s disease. I remember feeling better when coming camping in The County. At first, we came here to solve a problem but then we grew to love it. I am curious by nature. We would stop somewhere like The Vic Café and very soon I would start chatting with the girls about life in The County. Soon we also realized how great the County was geographically situated. Since my husband works on contracts as a Senior Application Architect  it became easier for us to move because here we are roughly half way from  Toronto, Ottawa, U.S.A and so on. This place, Prince Edward County, works on so many levels!

STARTING THE BUSINESS

We moved in July and in August I was calling food agencies. I’d been planning this business for three years. In Toronto I tried to see how much it would take to get it going but people were not very helpful at all! All the time you seek for help, the small business centre at the City Hall gives you 500 pages of information to read and almost no human contact. Another problem in the city is the lack of commercial kitchens rentals. And to top it off, people don’t want to share a kitchen with a fermented product because of the smell. Most kitchens want to be nut-free as well, in which, just made my plan nearly impossible. It was difficult for me. So when we looked for property here we wanted with the right zoning. I had a clear picture of what I needed. We moved in and I started calling the Health Unit here right away. I had to figure out where everything and everybody was, how to get them here. Soon after, the food inspector Patrick Doyle, came to see the place and coached me on whatever I needed to run my business. I had a great experience. So different to what I had in Toronto.

WORKING IN THE COUNTY

Now I work from home where I operate a commercial kitchen. In less than 6 months I participated in my first show in Wellington called Busy Hands. I knew Bay from Honey Pie and Herbals and Vicki from Vicki’s Veggies, because I had bought their products before and saw them around. But winter is a tough time to start anything in The County. That winter only Penny’s Pantry carried my products and she still does. Now Sarah Harrison from Cressy Mustard, Karlo Estate Winnery, the Local Store and the County Yum also carry my products. I am also at Kingston’s farmer’s market almost every Saturday and in a store in Ottawa called Pot & Pantry.

THE FUTURE

I am planning to grow my business responsibly and slowly. If you trying to make a living of your business at certain point you will need to sell a high enough volume to generate a comfortable income that will pay your bills. At this point we are not planning to be very big. I am having success in dealing with small business and working with them around solutions that are good for both sides, as opposed to what happens with big chains. My short term plan right now is to find a way to sell 600 jars a week year round. Once this number is reached it will put my business into a different level of planning as the need for space and storage will be needed. I constantly remind myself that I am more than a businesswoman in the end of the day. I love volunteering with the Women’s Institute, with the school as well but my most important job is to be a loving mother. I am enjoying this moment in my life and I don’t want to sacrifice the time I have with my daughter for anything. It has to be a balance and I am still trying to adjust that.

INSPIRATION FROM BUILD A NEW LIFE

I did not look for funding for start-up or for my new machines. We sold our house in Toronto and we knew what we needed to have left to put into my business. We knew exactly how much we could spend on a house, so that’s how we looked. I have to admit that the website buildanewlife helped me in the process of actually building my new life here. All the stories in the website motivated me to always move forward. More importantly, it became a useful research tool for me to know the business people and identify the nature of all business out there that could give me specific piece of advice when I most needed. The website added a wonderful personal touch to the relations I was about to encounter later on. I was excited to meet the creative minds behind the products, it was truly inspiring!

HELPFUL PEOPLE

Nobody in The County has ever turned me away and there was always a helpful answer for me, both, on a personal level and the business. I am very grateful to the business owners who took their time to answer my emails and talk to me face to face. They genuinely wanted to help me. On a personal level I have been blessed with the same experience. In Toronto I never experienced a sense of community like I am experiencing here.

AND THE WOMEN’S INSTITUTE TOO!

I volunteer with the Women’s Institute in Demorestville and those women are so great! They know so much. I get fun, encouragement, help and friendship from them and this is so awesome. I feel this is the way life is supposed to be and I connect with this.

FROM BRAZIL TO DEMORESTVILLE

I was born in Brazil, my husband is Canadian. In Brazil I was a bank manager with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I was successful, but I was lost in life, didn’t know what to do. Something had to change. I had a friend in Toronto who had just had a baby and she was in need for help, so, I made up my mind to come here. I told my boss to just lay me off! I got my paperwork done in 3 months and enrolled myself in a ESL school to help me with my accent. Later on, I took French courses and the Masters degree in Counselling Psychology. And now I am making food! My life has been all over the place. My father and my brothers just look at me and say “What are you doing?!” And I say “I am living.”
When life throws you curves, you have to do your best until you can and get back on track. When I got my masters I worked in a clinic in Toronto and it was good, but my daughter got severely sick. I had to quit to be able to care for my baby. That is how I got into the food business and now here I am. It’s funny because my grandmothers sold food from their homes, and one of them had a hair salon as well. They were entrepreneurs themselves and they supported the family. I remember being as young as 9 years old and helping my grandma baking and serving clients. My grandmas were incredible strong women, so is my mom, and all the courage and resilience I have in life I definitely owe to them.

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