In the vibrant city of Austin, Texas, a unique culinary revolution is taking shape, spearheaded by Kirsten Maitland and Fred Zwar, the dynamic duo behind Rebel Cheese. Their journey began not merely as a business venture but as a personal quest for dietary transformation and environmental consciousness. Both Maitland and Zwar, fervent food enthusiasts and globe-trotters, embarked on a mission to redefine vegan cuisine, particularly the elusive realm of vegan cheese.
Their motivation stemmed from a deep belief in the transformative power of plant-based foods. This belief was not just about improving personal health but also about advocating for animal welfare and mitigating the environmental impacts of traditional dairy farming. Kirsten Maitland’s transition to a vegan lifestyle was significantly influenced by her readings, particularly Dr. Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die,” which unveiled the concerning aspects of dairy consumption. This knowledge propelled her to relinquish her favorite food group, cheese, which she consumed almost daily. The change brought tangible health benefits, such as a reduction in cholesterol, and aligned with her values of reducing her environmental footprint.
Fred Zwar, sharing Maitland’s enthusiasm and ethical convictions, joined hands in this endeavor. Their shared vision was clear: to create a range of artisan vegan cheeses that could not only replicate the sensory pleasures of traditional dairy cheese but also surpass them. They aspired to craft products that could seamlessly fit into various culinary traditions, from casual picnics to gourmet dining, without compromising on taste, texture, or quality.
Thus, Rebel Cheese was born, not just as a brand, but as a symbol of rebellion against conventional dietary norms and an advocate for a sustainable, cruelty-free food ecosystem. Their approach was innovative and daring, challenging the stereotypes surrounding vegan food as being uninspiring or limited. By focusing on taste and quality, Rebel Cheese aimed to appeal to a broad audience, including those who were not strictly vegan but were open to exploring plant-based alternatives.
Crafting the Perfect Vegan Cheese
The quest for the perfect vegan cheese was not a straightforward one for Maitland and Zwar. Their journey into the world of artisan vegan cheesemaking began in their kitchen, where they started experimenting with cashews and cultures. The goal was to create a product that was more than just a dairy substitute; it needed to be a culinary delight in its own right. They aimed to produce cheeses that would not only appeal to vegans but also to traditional cheese aficionados.
Their approach was methodical and innovative. Collaborating with chefs, fermenters, and dairy cheese makers, they delved deep into the art and science of cheesemaking. This collaborative effort helped them elevate their recipes to a level that rivaled traditional dairy cheeses. The result was an array of hand-crafted, cultured, and aged cheeses – from creamy havarti and soft chèvre to flavorful Camembert and the quirky Cotswold garlic chive, a personal favorite of Zwar’s, reflecting the eccentric spirit of Austin.
Each cheese at Rebel Cheese is crafted with the simplest of ingredients – nuts, cultures, a few herbs or spices, vegan yogurt, or oil. These components come together to create a range of textures and flavors that are as diverse as they are delicious. The cheeses are perfect for pairing with crackers, crumbling on salads, or enjoying straight from the cheese board.
This meticulous development process was central to Rebel Cheese’s ethos. Maitland and Zwar were not just creating a product; they were redefining the very notion of what vegan cheese could be. In doing so, they were challenging and changing the preconceived notions about plant-based diets, proving that vegan cheese can be both an ethical choice and a culinary delight.
The Evolution and Impact of Rebel Cheese
Rebel Cheese’s journey from a concept to a culinary landmark in Austin encapsulates not just the growth of a business but the evolution of a movement. Since its inception in 2019, Rebel Cheese has expanded significantly. Initially aging cheese in a small wine fridge, they now operate a 9,000 sq ft factory, a testament to their dedication and the public’s growing appetite for vegan options.
Their cheese shop and deli, situated in the Mueller neighborhood of Austin, is more than just a cheese store. It’s an experience – a place where vegans and non-vegans alike can explore the rich and varied world of plant-based cheeses. Maitland and Zwar have curated a delightful mix of products, including house-made vegan deli meats like salami and bacon, alongside their signature cheeses. Their deli case also features artisan vegan cheeses from across the country, showcasing the breadth and diversity of vegan cheesemaking.
Rebel Cheese is not just a business; it’s a mission-driven venture. The impact of their work extends beyond the culinary sphere into environmental stewardship and animal welfare. By choosing plant-based ingredients, they contribute to significant reductions in water usage and greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional dairy farming. In just one year, their efforts have saved millions of gallons of water, thousands of pounds of dairy cheese, and the lives of numerous farm animals. This aligns with their core philosophy of being “rebels for the animals, the earth, and themselves.”
Their success is measured not just in sales but in the change they are fostering in the food industry. As a hub for veganism in Austin, Rebel Cheese is dismantling the stigma around plant-based diets, proving that vegan food can be as cultured and delectable as any gourmet cuisine.
The Future of Rebel Cheese
As Rebel Cheese continues to thrive, the aspirations of Kirsten Maitland and Fred Zwar extend far beyond their current success. Their vision for the future is grounded in a desire to broaden their impact and reach a wider audience.
The success of Rebel Cheese is a collaborative effort, as Maitland frequently acknowledges the crucial role of their dedicated team and the support of their customers. This community-centered approach will continue to be a cornerstone of their business as they plan for expansion.
Currently serving thousands of customers weekly and producing a significant amount of vegan cheese every month, Rebel Cheese stands as a beacon of what plant-based ventures can achieve. Their accolades, including features in prominent publications and awards, are a testament to their excellence and innovation in the vegan food industry.
As they look to the future, Maitland and Zwar remain committed to their core values of sustainability, health, and culinary artistry. They see Rebel Cheese not just as a brand, but as a movement – a platform to showcase that vegan food can be delicious, diverse, and accessible to all.
From its humble beginnings to becoming a culinary icon in Austin, Rebel Cheese by Kirsten Maitland and Fred Zwar is more than just a business; it’s a story of passion, innovation, and commitment to a better future. As they continue to rebel against traditional food norms, Rebel Cheese stands as a symbol of hope and change, inspiring others to explore the endless possibilities of plant-based cuisine.