Finally, you can rejoice knowing that vegan cheese is about to get a whole lot better. While plant-based cheese products have come a long way in the last decade, most are still made from nuts, seeds, and soy. This presents issues since these food items lack the ability to mimic dairy-derived proteins—whey and casein—that are really at the core of what makes cheese, taste and act like cheese. The world (especially the cows) is ready for some technology-powered cheese replicas. Cell-based meat (like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat) have had their moment and proven they work; the time is now for cell-based dairy.

Cell-Based, Cruelty-Free Dairy

One company, New Culture, has turned to the lab and technology to make a next-gen vegan cheese. Rather than starting with nuts, plants or soy, New Culture is reverse-engineering milk—cheese's main ingredient. The initial process involves utilizing microorganisms like bacteria to express casein proteins. Then, after adding plant-based ingredients like sugars, fats, and vitamins to casein and finishing with the fermentation process, a cheese-like vegan product is born. New Culture even moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world. Be it for talent, proximity to deep-pocketed tech investors, or other reasons, they are in the right place at the right time.

Another company is California-based Real Vegan Cheese, adamant about the fact that it is “not a cheese substitute,” rather, it’s a non-animal milk protein combined with water and vegan oil to make vegan finally be converted to vegan cheese via a standard cheese-making process. At the end of the day, the company is making something that will displace traditional cheese.

While many companies hold their innovations close, Real Vegan Cheese says it operates on an open-source model, a term typically used in the tech and software space. The company explains: “All information is published under free-culture licenses (e.g. Creative Commons). Any and all patentable material is put in the public domain, and all research is published via our wiki and mailing list as it is generated.”

Dairy 2.0

Time will tell if the food science and reverse-engineered proteins actually produce dairy-free “cheese” that tastes amazing and has the propensity to convert die-hard cheese heads. These dairy 2.0 companies have yet to bring their products to market yet, and we have yet to see the nutritional composition, either. In the meantime, you can sign up to get on the waiting list to receive a sample from New Culture.

Why now are these science and technology fueling companies to produce better plant-based products? While there has been a confluence of events including education as it relates to health, growing environmental concerns, and stronger animal ethics, there is also one piece that is less often talked about: money. Investors are recognizing the growing consumer demand for plant-based foods and see profitability at the end of the tunnel. With companies like Beyond Meat demonstrating monster IPOs, and major conglomerates creating their own plant-based product lines, investors want a piece of the potential profit.

Investment in the space is a good thing, and critical to move innovation—and in this case, better vegan cheese—forward. Making accessible, affordable, and perhaps most important: good tasting products, will allow us to relinquish reliance on the environmentally destructive animal agriculture.

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