Vegan meats and cheeses have had a great decade.
Plant-based meat substitutes are available at fast-food chains and nearly every grocery store, and vegan cheeses aren’t far behind. Ten years ago, plant-based faux meats and cheeses weren’t that appealing to omnivores, but the quality has improved so much that millions of consumers, even those who still eat some meat and dairy, seek out these products at least some of the time.
Although less than 2% of the U.S. population eats an exclusively vegan diet, recent studies have found that as many as one-third of Americans consider themselves flexitarians, which means they are incorporating more meat-, dairy- and egg-free meals into their diets.
I’m one of those eaters and so is Amy Edwards, my friend and a DJ on Austin360Radio. She eats a mostly plant-based diet with a few exceptions here and there, so she was the first person I thought of when I wanted to check out Rebel Cheese, a vegan cheese shop and eatery at 2200 Aldrich St. in the Mueller development.
Although the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), it also features a deli counter where you can buy vegan cheese and meat alternatives by the ounce, and there’s also a small grocery market.
Rebel makes its own thinly sliced vegan meats, as well as more than a dozen plant-based cheeses, most of which are made with nuts or soy. The store also carries cheeses from a number of other high-end vegan cheesemakers, including Wendy’s Nutty Cheese and Rind, two companies that are pushing the boundaries of vegan cheese by using many traditional cheesemaking techniques, such as brining, aging and inoculating with mold or other cultures.
We ordered the full charcuterie board, which comes with two meats and three cheeses. For the full cheese experience, we added one extra cheese and a grilled cheese sandwich.
The thin slices of faux ham and salami didn’t exactly look like meat, but they had the right layers of savory flavor and a decent texture that mimicked the pleasant chewiness of meat. Of the four cheeses, the faux Cheddar — the only hard cheese on the board — was the only one we didn’t like. The planted-based chèvre, boursin and a creamy semi-soft cheese from Wendy’s called Garden of Eden all exceeded any expectations we had coming in. Soft, well-balanced and lacking any "off" taste or texture, they were sophisticated plant-based cheeses unlike any we’d had before.
We were mostly there to try the take-home products from the deli counter, but the grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough was just about perfect: crusty, buttery without the butter, cheesy without the cheese and savory without the weird tang that I remember from the last sandwich I had with melted vegan cheese.
The charcuterie board, complete with grapes, almonds, mustard, jam, roasted tomatoes, olives, dried fruit and crackers, cost $22, and you also can buy the cheeses and meats by the ounce to enjoy at home. Expect to pay what you’d pay for high-end cheeses and cured meat at Whole Foods or Central Market, if not a little more, but if you’ve cut these items out of your diet (or never eaten them in the first place because there aren’t good plant-based options), Rebel is a great place to explore.
The market carries all kinds of vegan products, from nutritional yeast-based seasonings and gluten-free crackers to vegan chocolates and jam.
The store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.