There's no question that Cleveland's food community is a robust one. Everywhere you look, there's a strong presence of passionate and enthusiastic folks making their mark on our culinary landscape. That's precisely the reason Hunter Harlor, founder of forty.one in Ohio City, started making and selling his vegan milks and foodstuffs.
A former general manager at Le Petit Triangle Café with a deep involvement in Cleveland's food scene, Harlor says he was intoxicated by the energy of many of the small business owners he'd met. "I said to my fiancée, Anna, we've got to start making something, anything, just to become a vendor and get more involved with these people," he says.
Harlor had recently read an article about West Coast coffee shops that made their own almond milks in-house. He began experimenting with making his own. Those who tried the fresh milk loved it.
Soon, Harlor had interest from several local cafes that wanted to use his vegan product as a dairy alternative. Forty.one milk can now be found at Rising Star Coffee Roasters, Phoenix Coffee, Katz Club Diner and others. Pour Cleveland carries an exclusive blend of almond, hazelnut and macadamia milk, which contains just the right amount of fat for frothing.
Harlor also has achieved his goal of joining the ranks of those energetic market vendors. He retails at locations including the Shaker Square and downtown farmers' markets.
Making the milk itself is not super complicated, Harlor explains. Nuts are sourced locally from Hillson Nut Company. He uses a large blender to emulsify nuts and water, then strains the nuts and presses the milk out of the nut meal.
Sometimes he'll flavor the beverage, using vanilla beans, vegan chocolate sauce or organic pumpkins and spice. He's currently experimenting with other creative varieties such as turmeric and lavender. The process is time consuming, however, producing just three gallons of milk at a time.
He's also working on his own line of organic soy milk and tofu, currently used in dishes at Fire Food and Drink and Katz Club Diner. He'd like to expand production in this area soon.
Surprisingly, Harlor is not a vegan. "Not at all!" he says. "I'm way too attached to dairy to give it up." He says he likes to double dip in the vegan and non-vegan food worlds, enjoying whatever is good. "It was funny, the other day we showed up at the Shaker Square market with almond milk to sell," he says. "We left with whole milk, butter and cheese."
Harlor says customer feedback has been really positive. "It's like buying a bottled juice cocktail from a store, then trying fresh juice," he says. "Once you try the fresh stuff, it's hard to go back. Store-bought almond milk can taste like its packaging. Fresh almond milk actually tastes like it should." Harlor says that free of emulsifiers and preservatives found in store bought varieties, the texture of his almond milk is richer, like a glass of one- or two-percent milk.
With a strong interest from local cafes, restaurants and people, things are going well for forty.one. Harlor says he's currently seeking a more substantial production space, mostly due to increasing interest in his line of tofu. "We're kind of allowing our market to take us in the direction they'd like to see us go," says Harlor.
Owning a retail store, though, isn't on the table for Harlor and his enterprise. "I like to go to the markets and connect with people," he says. "It really is the best part of my job."
Visit the forty.one page on Facebook for more information. You can reach Harlor at 216-526-7146.