Cheese Without Cows
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 08, 2021
An emerging technology promises vegan alternatives that are as gooey and pungent as the original
By Aine Quinn

A decade ago, Jaap Korteweg founded a company called the Vegetarian Butcher, which made faux meat close enough to the real thing to be featured on Burger King’s menu. But for anyone wanting a cheeseburger, Korteweg couldn’t find an acceptable substitute for the other half of the recipe. So last year the Dutch entrepreneur plowed the proceeds from selling the company to Unilever Plc into another venture, Those Vegan Cowboys, aiming to concoct dairy products sans cows. On the way to a plant-based diet, “cheese was the last thing that disappeared from my plate,” Korteweg says. “There are no good vegan cheeses.”

Most of today’s cheese substitutes are based on soy, cashew, or other foods, and they generally lack the real thing’s rich aromatics, luxurious texture, and gooey quality when melted. Nut- and grain-based milk substitutes are getting better every year, but they don’t have caseins, which account for 80% of the proteins in dairy milk and give cheese its texture. Those Vegan Cowboys is one of dozens of startups seeking to create caseins with precision fermentation, a technology long used to make synthetic insulin. That, these companies say, will soon enable them to produce cheeses that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, without the environmental and animal welfare problems.

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