Ghent startup makes first cheese without a live cow | science

Those Vegan Cowboys, a startup in Ghent, claims to have created a vegan cheese for the first time that has the same characteristics as the animal kind, without using a live cow. However, Margaret’s help the “stainless steel cow”—named after “iron lady” Margaret Thatcher—was called upon to make an important protein for cheese commonly found in animal milk.

Unlike current vegan versions of cheese, for example based on nuts, the company, which was founded in 2020, says it has successfully made vegan cheese with casein. It is this protein in milk that gives cheese its special taste and “cheesy” texture.

The first cheese was created in a laboratory in Ghent where proteins were previously made for medical applications. After the arrival of “Those Vegan Cowboys,” the staff focused on producing machine casein using microfermentation, a process in which microorganisms make up a nutritional ingredient. The casein is then mixed with water, fat, and vegetable rennet to make cheese.

These Vegetarian Sluggers were founded by Jaap Korteweg and Nico Kaufmann, co-founders of the alternative meat product De Vegetarian Slugger, which was sold to Unilever. Their goal was to create plant-based dairy products that had the same taste as traditional cheese, milk, yogurt or butter.

Jaap Korteweg with Margaret, the stainless steel cow for Ghent startup The Vegan Cowboys.  This cow symbolizes the company's production process for making casein.

Jaap Korteweg with Margaret, the stainless steel cow for Ghent startup The Vegan Cowboys. This cow symbolizes the company’s production process for making casein. © rv

According to the company, cheese made from micro-fermentation has benefits for the environment and nature. For example, this method requires one-fifth of the land and water now used to make regular cheese. The company says the new production method also saves greenhouse gas emissions and animal suffering. After very high development costs, the new method of making cheese should also be cheaper than the old method, Korteweg says in a phone caption.

It will be years before cheese with vegetable casein is available in supermarkets or specialty stores. Since the production process is new, the supervisors must first check whether the cheese meets all food safety requirements. In addition, significant investment is required to make cheese on a larger scale through micro-fermentation. Korteweg hopes to have his product on shelves by 2027.

The casein in the first cheese in “those Vegan Cowboys,” according to Korteweg, which is comparable to young Gouda cheese, is made on the basis of sugars. The intent is for the grass to later become the starting point for the cheese. Korteweg hopes to be able to work with dairy farmers who have large tracts of grassland at their disposal. “We are regularly approached by dairy farmers who say they want to save their grass, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

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