When it opens next weekend in northeast Minneapolis, the Herbivorous Butcher will be the nation’s first meat-free meat shop. The cases will be stocked with hickory-smoked ribs, pepperoni, sausages, jerky, brats, ham, maple-glazed bacon, deli turkey, pastrami, corned beef, salami and a host of other sleight-of-hand items, all prepared minus the benefit of pork, beef, poultry and other animal proteins.
There will be a selection of vegan cheeses, too, all prepared on the premises by siblings Aubry and Kale Walch and their dozen-or-so crew members.
While setting up their gleaming shop in preparation for next weekend’s grand opening (nearly 4,000 Facebook-ers have said they’re going to show up), the Walches, both longtime vegans, gave us a preview of coming attractions.
Q: You’re originally from Guam. How did you land in Minnesota?
Aubry: I was 13 when we left, and Kale was 6 months old.
Kale: Dad read an article in Forbes magazine that listed Bloomington as the best place to raise your kids in 1993, and here we are.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge when making meat-free meats? Is it texture? Flavor? Color?
Kale: Texture, that’s the hardest. As for color, it’s like painting a picture. You combine just enough beet powder, and you’ll get pink bologna.
Aubry: And coloring with natural ingredients makes all the difference in the world. You’re coloring with real food.
Q: As vegans, are you relying upon sense memory, or do you have a meat-eating taste-tester?
Aubry: Our dad is kind of our go-to. If he doesn’t take a second bite, we know we need to work on it. And we have more people around us who more recently turned vegan, so they remember a little better.
Q: Tell me about this steak Diane, what’s in it?
Kale: It uses our porterhouse. The base for that is vital wheat gluten, and from there it’s a blend of different flours that helps create texture: garbanzo bean flour, tapioca flour. After that, it’s kind of a ratio game, with different juices and cooking methods.
Aubry: For sausages, we use pinto beans, and vital wheat gluten. For the Italian sausages, we add in sun-dried tomatoes, fennel, basil and oregano, and it all comes together with some extra-virgin olive oil. We kind of make a dough with it. We’re like a savory bakery, that’s what we call ourselves. Everything is a dough, and then it gets either steamed, or baked, or braised, depending upon the product.
Q: How did you learn how to do this?
Aubry: Trial and error. We started with what we wanted to eat. What we didn’t want to eat was the frozen stuff off the shelf.
Kale: There are basic recipes that have existed for years and years, but they’re just that, basic. What we’ve learned is that you can infuse so much flavor. It’s a blank canvas and you can do a lot with it. We’re never bored.
Q: If vegans don’t want to eat meat, then why replicate meat? It seems counterintuitive.
Aubry: We get that a lot. What we’re trying to do is give omnivores a really easy and comfortable way to switch over, even if it’s just one day a week.
Q: A Meatless Monday situation?
Aubry: Exactly. So they’re not missing anything on their plate. That’s what we missed when we went vegan, so we made stuff that replaced it.
Kale: Sixty to 70 percent of our customers are omnivores, or vegan before 6 [a no-meat/no-dairy-before-6 p.m. diet]. The rest are vegans or vegetarians.
Q: What’s the story behind the cheeses? They’re beautiful.
Kale: Most have a base of coconut oil and soy milk base, then it’s a game of ratios. We use different vinegars to create different textures, and different cooking times. Tapioca flour helps give it substance. We can do anything from Camembert to harder cheeses. Now that we have the production space, we’re going to experiment with rinds. The sky is the limit.
Aubry: I’m still waiting for the Gorgonzola.
Q: How do you do achieve that without using cultures?
Aubry: You can do it with algae. We haven’t done it successfully yet, but we will.
Q: What can shoppers expect to encounter at the shop?
Aubry: We’ll have 12 meats each day, and six cheeses each day, and they’ll rotate. And there’ll be a daily hot lunch item; it’ll be a brat, or a sandwich. You won’t be able to eat it here, you’ll have to take it to go.
Q: Will we be seeing more Herbivorous Butcher shops?
Aubry: Yes. I think we’re going to go to the coasts, that’s first.
Kale: To L.A., because it’s the warmest.
Aubry: We’ll do something like we’re doing here: a hub with a production kitchen that can service the area around it, so we don’t have to ship and we can reduce our carbon footprint.
Q: You’re in a booming segment of the food industry, aren’t you?
Aubry: It’s growing, every day. It’s really exciting. It’s the way people are going, they’re becoming more conscious of what they put in their bodies, and what they’re doing to the planet. It’s encouraging.
There are new products all the time, like this new vegan egg. It’s the Follow Your Heart brand, and I feel like it’s a game-changer. It scrambles, you can make quiches with it, you can bake with it, you can make omelets with it. It’s kind of creepy how good it is. The first time I ate it I had a hard time with it, because it’s so real.
Q: You used the Minneapolis Farmers Market as the launchpad of your business. What was that like?
Aubry: It was the best. It’s such an amazing place. We had no idea what to expect, bringing in this weird product. The client base that we made there are our backbone in a lot of ways, they’re so supportive.
Kale: I don’t know how else we would have done it. We met some of our best friends there. We met our investor there. And we got some of the most honest criticism there.
Q: Will you be returning to the farmers market?
Aubry: We’re going to keep doing it, yes, at the Mill City Farmers Market and the Linden Hills Farmers Market.
Kale: Also a lot of festivals, this area is huge for doing outdoor summer festivals.
Aubry: We’re hoping for a hot dog cart.
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