When Doug Davidson moved back to Langley after living eight years in sunny Brazil, he missed the the traditional snack food they served everywhere. Called Pao de Queijo — translated to ‘cheese bread’ — the bite-sized snack is eaten with coffee in the morning, with soup for lunch or just as an appetizer.
“Their cheese bread is served everywhere, on food trucks, at the Starbuck’s, in stores, everybody ate it for breakfast, with lunch, as a snack,” said Davidson.
So, along with his wife Sandra, a native of Brazil, they started trying to recreate that delicious cheese bread here at home, using Sandra’s grandmother Dee’s recipe.
“But we couldn’t quite perfect it because we couldn’t get the same cheese they use in Brazil,” Davidson said. So after many trials and errors, they came up with the perfect mix of blending four cheeses including mozzarella and provolone.
What came out of the oven was that long-missed Brazilian cheese bread – crunchy on the outside and soft and cheesy on the inside.
They didn’t want to keep this tasty morsel to themselves so with a leap of faith, Davidson decided to try and sell them.
Davidson took the plunge, creating the company ‘Gramma Dee’s Gourmet Snacks,’ in honour of Sandra’s gramma and started selling the cheese bread balls at farmers’ markets around the Lower Mainland.
“Lots of people loved it so much, they kept asking where can I get this year-round? There was nowhere, just me. So we decided to try and get it into stores.”
The traditional recipe calls for tapioca flour so the bread is naturally gluten-free — which is a real hit for Celiacs and the growing population of people with gluten intolerance.
The machine that forms the cheese bread balls had to be imported from Brazil. It took Davidson six months to master it.
Gramma Dee’s offers three flavors: traditional cheese, jalapeno and garlic.
Now, the Brazilian staple is sold in the produce frozen food shelves of around 70 Save On Foods throughout B.C. It’s also available at Langley’s Nature’s Fair.
“Sales increase 30 to 40 per cent year after year,” said Davidson. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s his passion now.
A few years ago, the Gramma Dee’s product line expanded. Sandra created a vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake mix that doesn’t compromise on flavour.
“It truly is the most chocolatey, moist cake I’ve ever tasted. Lots of gluten-free, dairy free cakes taste like cardboard, but this one delivers.”
This year, Gramma Dee’s cake mix was nominated at the Gluten Free Trade Show as product of the year. It came in fifth place. The cake mix is available in 120 grocery stores across B.C.
The whole bag of mix can make 80 mini cupcakes, which is how they serve it at trade shows and local grocery tastings.
Recently, Gramma Dee’s received a small business grant under the provincial government’s Buy Local program that promotes local agricultural and food businesses.
With that money they were able to test out the perfect gluten-free, nut and dairy-free pesto sauce. Containing kale, hemp and spinach, Davidson thinks he has a great product but it’s still in the beginning stages and not on the market . . . yet, he says.
Running your own business, right down to doing the baking and delivering, is a lot different than his previous work of running restaurants and bars in the U.S. and Mexico.
His industrial kitchen is here in Langley and he delivers his own product to stores.
But for every happy customer who turns out to love Gramma Dee’s cheese bread, it makes the challenges worthwhile, he said.
To learn more go to grammadees.com of check out the Facebook page.