Looking at the porterhouse steak at the Herbivorous Butcher in NE Minneapolis, I could swear it’s real meat. And the Italian sausages, the Korean ribs, the pepper jack cheese and pepperoni all look like the real deal. But they’re 100 percent vegan….and kosher. Yes, that’s right. Your dreams of eating a kosher reuben are about to come true! Minnesota is getting the world’s first vegan butcher shop, a lovely oxymoron run by lovely people.
The brother-and-sister team behind this sleight of hand is Aubry and Kale Walch. Vegan themselves, they were unhappy with the meat-substitute options on the market. They decided to try to make their own non-meats from ingredients anyone could buy at the coop. The first two years of experimentation were “no good,” says Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Ryan Strandjord. Undeterred, they kept experimenting, eventually renting space at Kindred Kitchen (co-founded by Michelle Horowitz) and creating a product that even their father, the family carnivore, wanted to eat.
The Walch’s father became their official taster. “If their dad doesn’t take a second bite,” says Strandjord, “that means they have to go back to the drawing board.”
“The stuff we make is totally different than the other [fake meat options] on market,” Kale promises. “ We use real food. And we literally make everything by hand in small batches.” That means just 80 sausages at a time and each batch is taste tested to ensure quality.
“There’s love that goes into this food,” says Aubry, who worked at Whole Foods for six years picking up food merchandising tips before going in full-time with her brother three years ago.
Love and, exactly what else? I asked. The meat is made from vital wheat gluten, a high-protein, wheat-based flour. “We’re sort of a savory bakery,” Strandjord says. After perfecting the texture, apparently the hardest part of the meat mimicry process, the meats get premium flavorings to achieve sausage spice and rib smokiness.
The cheese is made from a soymilk and coconut milk base. It’s flavored with different vinegars (think apple cider and red wine) to achieve the perfect tang, all organic and non-GMO, of course. They haven’t ventured into the pungent world of the hard cheeses yet but plan to experiment now that they have a dedicated space.
For now, they’re offering a variety of meats and cheeses including sriracha brats and dill havarti cheese, all vegan, natch. They also plan to offer deli favorites like sandwiches and brats at lunch, and some hot dishes for dinner.
Their goal is nothing less than to help people give up meat altogether. They think that they can convert meat eaters that are maybe on the edge and need help figuring out how to eat a plant-based diet. “It’s the reality of our planet,” Aubrey says. “We’re not going to being able to sustain factory farming forever.”
That gives us some food for thought. But, what we really want to know is will there be pastrami sandwiches? Yes, they tell me. Reubens for sure. And I ask them to consider a chickenless matzo ball soup. They got kind of excited and started talking ingredients, so stay tuned. They’re also planning cheese curds at the state fair. Hey-yo! See you there.
Now is often the case, when a window opens, a door closes. Or, wait, is that the other way around? Anyways, the door-closing news is that the St. Louis Park Lunds & Byerlys meat counter is going to end its butcher operation on February 15 citing “low demand,” according to Aaron Sorenson, Communications Manager at L&B. He noted that the the store will continue to offer rotisserie chicken, sushi and Glatt Kosher products in the self-service cases. The store will also continue to have a Mashgiach on site every day of the week to oversee their kosher departments.
The one thing the Twin Cities still seems to be lacking in kosher options is some solid kosher takeout. “It’s shocking to me that we don’t have a kosher pizza or kosher Chinese because we have such a robust community,” says Rabbi Avi Olitzky. “Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Atlanta have these options.”
Hey, if you can eat a vegan porterhouse steak, who knows? Anything’s possible.
Head to the Herbivorous Butcher’s Grand Opening Weekend, January 23-24 for samples, prizes and special guest appearances. Can’t make it this weekend? No worries, they are open Tues-Fri: 10-7, Sat: 10-6, Sun: 11-4, Mon: closed, and plan to offer tours and tastes.
To find more Kosher options, visit MSPKosher.org