Cheese without cows: the first ever taste test of cell-based mozzarella with LegenDairy Foods

This article is based on an episode of the Red to Green podcast on food tech for sustainability and health. The first season covered cell-based meat, dairy and seafood. Listen to this and past episodes on Spotify, iTunes and other platforms. 

This is an interview with Dr. Britta Winterberg, founder and CSO of LegenDairy Foods, making cheese without cows. LegenDairy is an innovative startup based in Berlin, Germany working on sustainable, clean and cruelty-free dairy of the future. 

  Producing the dairy products vegans love and miss
“I think i’m a nerd through and through…I think I decided to be a biologist when I was 9 years old”

Britta never imagined herself becoming a scientist, much less founding a startup and working on something as disruptive as animal-free dairy. It’s been an “amazing journey..i never thought i would go down this path”.

Legendairy was only founded last year but has already started making waves in the industry, producing vegan dairy products by expressing milk proteins in different microorganisms like yeast and other fungi. They isolate proteins in a process similar to beer brewing by which they use a large steel tank to grow yeast. Then they extract  proteins, isolate them and use the same techniques as you would for traditional dairy products to produce  tasty, animal-free cheese. 

Legendairy is closing the gap between having to give up your favorite food when you give up dairy, by offering vegans the exact animal-based produce they love and miss. Their cheese offers the same texture, taste and meltiness as the “real thing”; 

“We need better vegan cheese to the alternatives that are available right now”

Currently, Legendairy is only focusing its efforts on cheese since Britta says that it’s very difficult to replicate other dairy products like milk, since the fluid is too complex, and consumers have a very specific “idea of how it should taste”.

Ridiculously expensive but ridiculously sustainable
Britta admits that at first their products will be undeniably expensive because the technology they use hasn’t matured in the industry yet and production strains are still too weak. Britta remains hopeful though that given time and as “the interest in those products will increase” prices will become more affordable for the average buyer.

The founder assures that they aren’t trying to compete with farmers they “want to work with farmers not against them”. She and her team believe that milk should be a premium product, something that is occasionally assumed and not so much on a daily basis. They are building a future where farmers can live and sustain their business with only 50 cattle or less, compared to the hundreds they keep now just to make ends meet, while Legendairy would tend to the mass consumers using their innovative biotechnology, no animals required.

 Leading the cellular dairy space in Europe
Despite there being a plethora of animal-free startups on the rise, Legendairy might just have the upper hand being the only EU company working on cellular dairy products. Britta believes that being in the EU gives them the advantage as they are in a continent steeped in European cheese heritage. Having artisan cheese makers next door gives them the perfect advantage; “this gives us a big head start”.

Their main competition? US-based Perfect Day, the well-known producers of animal-free dairy products. However, they also have a different business model, with a plan to produce proteins and supply them to dairy producers, unlike Legendairy who wish to cover the entire cheese making process, from production to final consumer.

So, the big question is; has anyone ever tasted LegenDairy’s mozzarella? Britta describes  that they only recently had the chance to try it after a finished prototype was tested for different characteristics like meltability and stretchability. However, there was one ingredient that was just too bitter so they are onto the next prototype phase after it was replaced (we’re staying tuned for updates..!)

“This is nothing that happens overnight”.

LegenDairy Foods: the Tesla of the dairy world 

“We have an ambitious plan, to be honest”

The startup hopes to see their products on shelves in the next two to three years, but since they are dealing with such an innovative product it needs to be tested and approved by EU regulations in order to be sold on the market. Thankfully Britta explains that EU regulations aren’t as harsh as you would think, it’s mostly just “momentum”. Why? Because due to the growing number of disruptive plant-based and cell-based startups now entering the market before them, there is now more awareness of the kind of innovation that is yet to come. There is a lot more awareness around dairy-free solutions than ever before.

“It will be a small market. I don’t see ourselves being a mass product in the next three years (just yet!)” 

Two to three years might sound like an eternity for a startup but this team is ambitious and they´re already looking at how to target potential markets. Britta says that their main scope will be vegans, vegetarians and high-end restaurants, the niche consumers that are willing to give their products a chance.

“We see ourselves as the Tesla of the dairy world”

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