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How a Minneapolis Duo Is Changing the Fake ‘Meat’ Game

"Vegan butcher" isn't an oxymoron anymore. Listen as Brendan visits The Herbivorous Butcher to learn the innovative ways this shop is challenging its soy-based competitors.

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What if we told you these two words: Vegan butchers.

You might be thinking, “HOW?!” Well, Brendan had the same question. So, he decided to investigate and talk to Aubry and Kale Walch. They’re the sister and brother duo who founded The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s where they sell fake meat from a store set up like a real butcher shop. Their “meat case” is filled with ribs, porterhouse steaks, rib-eye, cold cuts, pastrami — none of which contain meat. Brilliant, right?

So, why do the two identify with butchers?

“It’s quite simply because we butcher plants, and then we make them taste like meat to fool people into not eating meat,” Aubry explained.

What’s in their “meat”? What is their taste-testing process like? Find out the answers to those questions and more below.

Interview highlights:

On whether anyone has been fooled by their “butcher shop”

Aubry Walch: There was a wonderful police officer that came in one day and he just wanted some steaks. And he asked for rib-eye steaks, and at the time, we didn’t have rib-eye steaks. So I pointed him the direction of porterhouse steaks and he said, “That looks great!” And he got a pound of it, and walked out, and I didn’t tell him otherwise.

Kale Walch: We’re both under house arrest now, unfortunately. Yeah, he said it was a crime.

On why these to vegans chose to get into the fake meat business

Aubry Walch: I went vegan when I was 14 years old and I didn’t go vegan because I didn’t like meat, and I didn’t like eggs, and I didn’t like cheese. It was because I just felt like I didn’t need to consume something that came from something else or that was alive at one point to make myself happy.

And, in order to make that work, we had to come up with some of our own kinds of meats that we could eat because we still missed it, and we missed the texture, and we missed it on our plate.

The Herbivorous Butcher's Italian cold cut sandwich. You can hear Brendan sample this in the audio above. (Photo Credit: Laura VanZandt)
The Herbivorous Butcher’s Italian cold cut sandwich. You can hear Brendan sample this in the audio above. (Photo Credit: Laura VanZandt)

Kale Walch: I went vegan for a different reason. I was just very overweight in high school, so I went vegan to lose weight before college.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Pretty radical weight loss regime.

Kale Walch: Oh yeah, yeah, 60 pounds in three months… Because, you know, like, eHarmony wouldn’t accept my application. They were like, “No.”

Aubry Walch: And then there was Tinder, so.

Kale Walch: And then there was, there was Tinder.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Tender is the meat version of Tinder, by the way. [Kale groans then laughs.] I’m here all week, folks.

On what sets their “meat” apart from soy-based versions

Kale Walch: So, a lot of our meats are a wheat-base. Sort of like a strategic seitan, if you ever had that. It’s made out of a high-protein wheat flour called “vital wheat gluten.” And from there, we add a myriad of different spices and vinegars and beans to create anything from Italian sausage to porterhouse steak to chicken things.

It’s a lot of fun for us because we can make literally whatever we want to. We could make a blueberry habanero pastrami if we want to. It’s just whatever the people need, we got for them.

On how their make their gluten-free “meat”

Kale Walch: We’ve got some jackfruit-based products, like our shredded chicken and our pulled pork. And there was a lot of jackfruit out there, but we threw a different spin on it. We make it nice, we grill it, we get the nice meaty flavors in there. But that’s not all. I’m working on a one-for-one vital wheat gluten substitute, so everything from our Korean ribs to our chorizo may eventually be gluten free.

On how they make their products more meat-like

Aubry Walch: All of our products can be or should be cooked like their animal counterpart. We use stuff like a simulated animal fat in a lot of our meats, our steak, it’s in our lunch meats, and our bacon. And that softens and melts like fat does.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Interesting. And then what does that do? Does that give off certain scents or certain action when you’re cooking it that simulates meat?

Kale Walch: Yeah, it’s really fatty and it looks just like fat. So if you got a rib-eye steak on the grill, those fatty juices are gonna drip down to the coals or the heating element and smoke’s gonna come back up. That’s really what gives a grilled meat or any kind of protein its flavor, is the fat of any kind dripping down and coming back up.

The Herbivorous Butcher's Korean Ribs with rice. (Photo Credit: Laura VanZandt)
The Herbivorous Butcher’s Korean Ribs with rice. (Photo Credit: Laura VanZandt)

On their taste testing process… and their “meat” fails

Kale Walch: We’ve got some trusted people, like our father, that still eat meat and they’ll be very honest with us if our stuff sucks or not. Sometimes it does. We still try new recipes all the time. I just made one today that sucked. I was trying to make a hot dog really, really red. And instead, it turned out to be a sad brown.

Aubry Walch: It was a very sad brown. And you looked even more sad.

Kale Walch: Oh yeah.

On how their heritage played a role in the start of their business

Aubry Walch: So, we were both born on Guam. But on Guam, meat is such a huge part of every single meal. Our dinner table had grilled hot dogs, and then chicken, and steak, and ribs. And it was every single meal. So, I don’t think I could live unless I had those things that I could eat with my family.

You know, the one thing that I miss so much is Spam. ‘Cause I ate that every Friday while I watched “Full House” when I was a kid.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So like comfort foods are part of your family tradition, it sounds like.

Aubry Walch: Yeah, yeah. And then, you know, food is part of everyone’s family tradition. And so, that’s another reason why we started this, so that families can come in and go to the butcher shop and talk to their local butcher and not miss any of those experiences.

Kale Walch: Yeah, I’m trying to master the vegan Spam for Aubry’s birthday. Once we get the vegan Spam, we’re gonna call it “Sham” and we’re gonna fool the world.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]