Since Vromage opened its doors to its quaint West Hollywood store, the artisanal gourmet vegan cheese shop has made a splash in LA’s organic and meat-free food scene. Using cashew, walnut, or seed-based recipes, Vromage offers sophisticated “cheeses” that, some argue, taste better than the real thing. Step inside and you’ll be treated to an array of intricate creations, all using ingredients from around the world. Vromage is a first-of-its-kind store for vegans and non-vegans alike to enjoy guilt-free treats.
Indeed, the revolutionary shop off Sunset Blvd has become a must-try for celebrities and tourists alike, but the original story of Vromage’s creator, a once-meat loving chef, might surprise you.
We recently had a chance to sit down with the creator and owner of Vromage, Youssef Vromage, who (in a very punk-rock move) actually changed his last name to keep his shop’s trademark.
When I first inquired about Youssef’s backstory, I was interested to learn about his global culinary experiences. From moving to Morocco at the age of 13 to help with his family’s restaurant, to training with chefs around the world, this accomplished gourmet chef came to America with a surplus of experience and soon opened several Mediterranean restaurants in Santa Barbara before he made the shift to Los Angeles.
So how did the creation of vegan cheese derive from someone who grew up with a meat-based lifestyle? Well, as life would have it, Youssef didn’t originally intend on coming up with a ground-breaking plant-based formula, but instead, met a woman who just happened to be a vegan chef.
In hopes of courting her, he adopted her dietary lifestyle and cooking techniques. After countless dinners with the object of his affection, Youssef inadvertently cut out all animal products from his diet and found comfort in the results.
To this day, the only animal products Youssef will fraternize with are sample tastings of cheese in order to replicate their flavor and half-and-half in his coffee. Other than that, he attributes his youthful energy to his healthy diet.
When he was making his transition to veganism, Youssef surveyed gourmet options available to him at the time and was disappointed in the selection of animal-free cheeses (which were all simple products made of yeast, oils, and bland fillers). Not wanting to give up treating his palette for a healthier option, he used his sophisticated knowledge of tastes and started putting together concoctions of vegan cheeses to impress his new ladyfriend.
She was indeed intrigued, and Youssef would go home every night and continue to blend pairings of nuts, seeds, and whatever else he saw fit to replicate the taste of the cheeses he loved. Since there was no existing blueprint for his newly created products, he would make up the recipes as he went and judge them by their taste.
This cultivation took about five years, filled with trial and error, but the process eventually became seamless, and the gourmet chef found he had enough cheeses to open up a shop. Even before the shop opened, buzz around the city circulated and people from all over the world began custom ordering his vegan versions of brie and gorgonzola, to name just a couple.
Youseff was offering something that would not only help you forget your craving for dairy cheese, but it also offered a taste unlike any other.
Sourcing ingredients from all around the world, the final products aren’t necessarily a carbon copy of the cheddar you grew up on, rather they’re in a league of their own. “I never thought I’d be in the business,” he went on, “All I wanted to do was impress her.”
Unfortunately his love affair with the vegan chef didn’t come to fruition, but he continued to focus on his product and found a greater purpose in his creations.
Surprisingly, today, about half of Vromage’s customers aren’t actually vegetarian at all. They simply buy the products because they enjoy the taste. “Our newer generation is conscientious and values organic food, so there is a high demand for a product that not only tastes good, but is good for you,” Youssef explains.
Vromage stems from an old school mentality— inspired by the likes of mom and pop shops in New York and Europe — Youssef would rather oversee his products to ensure the utmost quality for his customers who he has cultivated valuable relationships with over the years. When asked about franchising his popular locale, he explains that though it might be possible to expand with processed products, it’s incredibly difficult to package artisanal foods and ensure the same high quality with mass production.
Every one of his cheeses are handmade and the process in which he makes them changes daily. No product will ever taste exactly the same, and the recipes themselves can slightly deviate, depending on changes in fermentation, temperature, and weather. And, because none of Youseff’s recipes are written down, he plays each dish by ear and adjusts as he goes (with plenty of taste tests along the way).
Vromage is a dying breed — a personalized shop where you know the owner by name and come in daily to order your “usual.” In addition to its interesting culinary experience, Vromage brings some much needed humanity back into LA’s sprawling, isolated landscape.
Even though Youssef didn’t end up with his beloved vegan chef, in the end their professional relationship gave him something of a baby: his one-of-a-kind cheeses. Youssef says with a sly smile that his customers love hearing Vromage’s origin story. “They can taste the love.”
And, if you ask me, that’s one delicious, happy ending.
Sonia Gumuchian is a writer based in Los Angeles. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she received her film degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has been working in the TV industry for several years. Sonia recently worked at ABC Studios and HBO, where she learned the ropes of creative development. Additionally, her work has been showcased at film festivals in the UK, the US, and Canada. Her entertainment articles have also been featured in USC Annenberg Media and Neon Tommy.