Dairy has been around for as long as we can remember. Indeed, you probably grew up hearing that drinking milk will make you strong, that yogurt is great for your gut, and many other advantages of consuming dairy. In addition to these benefits, let’s be honest, dairy makes delicious foods. And one of them is cheese! Have you met anyone who did not like any type of cheese? Gooey, melting grilled cheese, pizzas, cheeseburgers, cheese platters, in salads… There are thousands of different ways we eat cheese on a daily basis. It is so popular that the market value of cheese worldwide in 2020 was 72.26 billion US dollars. According to the prediction, this number will grow to 105.93 in 2026.
It’s hard to imagine a world without cheese (the French would probably start another revolution). However, there is a growing awareness and concern about animal cruelty and the negative environmental impact of the dairy industry. In turn, this has prompted consumers to increasingly choose plant-based products. In fact, in 2019, the global plant-based cheese market was valued at 1.01 billion US dollars. The compound annual growth rate should be 12.8% from 2020 to 2027.
Having said that, what if food scientists could create cheese that tastes, feels, melts like traditional cheese, but without using animals? This is a possibility turning into reality thanks to innovative startups using precision fermentation. Bringing the best of both worlds, precision fermentation creates animal-free but not dairy-free cheeses. The potential of precision fermentation is huge, even in markets such as Europe where the dairy culture is very strong.
Who are the startups behind the future of cheese through precision fermentation?
Formo is a Berlin-based startup that uses precision fermentation to create animal-free milk proteins. Which they follow up by turning into indulgent cheeses in the artisan tradition. The startup has recently secured the largest Series A FoodTech funding round in Europe, $50M. This will allow them to improve their progress by hiring more people, moving into a new HQ, accelerating their research, and scaling up production. Being the biggest investment in European foodtech, Formo is paving the way for the alternative cheese sector.
This startup makes milk protein that is nutritionally identical to protein from cow’s milk but made using flora fermentation instead of animals. Perfect Day is working with food and dairy companies to deliver high-quality protein and products that are delicious, nourishing, sustainable, and humane. Being a milk protein you can enjoy the taste, texture, and nutrition of traditional dairy. The only difference is that no animal is harmed in the making, removing the downsides of factory farming, lactose, hormones, and antibiotics.
New Culture is focusing on one main ingredient: casein protein. Casein protein is the main dairy protein in cow’s milk, and is responsible for the stretchiness of cheese. Caseins are actually very unique animal proteins which is why it is often difficult to replicate the texture of cheese in plant-based alternatives.
Combining their casein, the startup adds water, fat, a touch of sugar, vitamins, and minerals to develop their product. New Culture’s first cheese is mozzarella, more precisely for the pizza market to begin with. It has the same taste, texture, melt and stretch as the traditional version, but it’s also animal-free, lactose-free, and planet-friendly.
Those Vegan Cowboys, founded by the previous owners of The Vegetarian Butcher, also creates animal-free casein through precision fermentation.
Indeed, collaborating with scientists and leaders in the traditional dairy industry, they aim to develop milk proteins through fermentation. Followed by applying them to create fully vegan, dairy-type products. Fermentation allows carbohydrates and components from plants and grasses to be upgraded to dairy-identical proteins via microbial processes.
In our interview with CMO Irina Gerry, she explains that “Change Foods is a foodtech startup focused on (re)creating dairy, animal-free. We harness the power of microbes to create real dairy proteins, fats, and flavors via precision fermentation. We then utilize traditional cheesemaking techniques to turn them into cheese that tastes, stretches, and melts just as you’d expect. No cows required!”
The startup decided to focus on cheese as its first product as it is often cited as one of the main reasons people won’t switch to a more plant-based diet. Change Foods’ animal-free cheeses contain all the benefits such as protein and calcium and none of all the bad stuff that conventional dairy products contain, like cholesterol, hormones, and antibiotics.
In addition to dairy proteins, there are other ingredients that can help create products similar to traditional cheese. One of them is fat. After 10 years of investment and research, Nourish Ingredients aims to be the go-to provider of nonanimal fats for the plant and dairy alternative space. Anna El Tahchy, Chief Technical Officer, defines the company as a “foodtech startup, combining world-class scientists to make the plant changing impact by unlocking the potential of plant-based food products like plant-based burgers, plant-based steaks, plant-based dairy, etc.” She adds that their “perfectly tailored animal-free fats and oils foods taste better and feel exactly like the animal kind.”
Nourish Ingredients’ animal-free fats and oils make plant and cellular-based alternative proteins taste delicious – as good, if not better, than the real thing. Combining their science with the process of fermentation, they can tailor flavour profiles that precisely reproduce the taste and mouthfeel of beef, chicken, fish, milk, cheese and beyond.
Real Deal Milk is developing technologies that produce dairy products with equivalent nutritional value to traditional dairy through precision fermentation. Their product will allow consumers to continue enjoying milk products such as cheese but without having to worry about the environmental impact and animal welfare.
Vienna’s startup Fermify claims its digitised production platform delivers casein proteins with the same superior functional properties and nutritional profile of real cheese and allows producers to produce cow-free cheese at scale.