Let’s talk about the process for making vegan meats. Tell us a little about what goes into each of your products.
Kale: It’s very much like making dough. A very muscular dough is often how I like to describe it. So we use a vital wheat gluten which is a high-protein wheat flour and from there it’s using different blends of juices, beans, and different flours. We just combine dry and wet ingredients until we get this mass that we can shape into a bunch of different shapes. Sausages, steaks, chops, fish... well, I haven’t figured out fish yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a lot of fun, and different seasonings can make tons of flavors, and different amounts make different textures.
Being a vegan, how do you go about trying to match flavors and textures? It’s not like you can eat the real-meat equivalents. Do you have taste-testers?
Kale: I went vegan five years ago, but it feels like it could’ve been yesterday so I still remember a lot of the textures. I mean, when I went vegan, I needed everything to be spot on. For other things, our dad tries it out for us.
Aubry: Yeah, if he doesn’t take a second bite, we know it’s no good.
Kale: We’ve got other people too. A lot of our customers our omnivores and they let us know if something isn’t quite up to par. What was the last thing that didn’t really work out?
Aubry: The salami.
Kale: Oh yeah, the salami. They told us that it just wasn’t quite there. The shape was wrong, the color was off, and the flavor just wasn’t right and I took it to heart and I’ve been trying to work on it ever since.
Aubry: That’s something that’s really awesome about our customers. They tell us exactly what they think and they know that we’re going to try to go back and fix it. It’s just a really cool relationship that we have.
Kale: They’re really a part of the mission. They feel like they’re a part of this movement instead of just supporting a local business and they’re actually doing both. It’s really why we started and it’s more of a mission then anything. You know, we have to keep our doors open and our people fed, but beyond that, it’s what we want to do.
How many products do you plan on carrying in the shop?
Aubry: There are 46 or so that we’ve made already. We’ll have 12 products in the meat case and then probably about five cheeses in the cheese case and they’ll rotate out. We’re also going to have some take-and-bake items, so you know, family-sized enchiladas, pot pies, and things like that that people can take home and we’ll also do one daily lunch special. We won’t have any seats due to licensing issues, but we’ll basically just operate as a butcher shop. We’re also big enough to be able to supply the assisted-living facilities and to ship everywhere.
What's the learning curve like for people who are looking to switch to vegan meats? How different are they to prepare than regular meats?
Kale: It’s a relief for a lot of our omnivore customers because they don’t have to worry about foodborne illness. All of the stuff is fully cooked, but not so much that they can’t do what they want with it. The ribs you just warm up and the Italian sausage you could eat right out of the package, but throw it in a pan with some olive oil and it’s great. So yeah, there’s not really much of a learning curve.
Aubry: Yeah, we just tell people to treat it like the animal counterpart. It’s pretty comfortable and on our website. Once we have some more time, we’ll put some recipes and things up there.
Do you see a big future for vegan meats?
Aubry: At some point the Earth's just not going to be able to sustain as much animal agriculture as we have now and there’s a lot of things, because of animal agriculture, that we’ve done to the planet that aren’t reversible at this point. We think that people are starting to eat with a conscience. They’re curious about what they’re putting in their bodies and they’re starting to put things together, like a chicken nugget and a chicken, and are like, “Hey, those are the same thing!”
Kale: Back when I went vegan, even then it was hard to avoid all the videos that crazy vegans were posting on Facebook, but now it’s everywhere. Everyone’s putting them up and everyone knows. Even if people just do a meatless Monday, they’re taking a small step.
Aubry: It does seem like people are starting to change a little bit and it makes me really excited to be a part of this movement at this time.
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Keane Amdahl is a Twin Cities-based writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Foodstoned.