Silicon Valley Is Trying to Make Vegan Cheese That’s Actually Cheese

Slate's Culture Blog
July 18 2014 7:31 PM

Silicon Valley Is Trying to Make Vegan Cheese That’s Actually Cheese

84655508-cheese-display-at-the-cheese-dairy-nordmilch-on-february
Someday, this might be vegan.

Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

At long last, the environmentally concerned food enthusiasts of Silicon Valley are devoting themselves to a serious culinary problem. Forget Hampton Creek, the startup that last year earned great critical acclaim for making passable vegan mayonnaise (never mind that passable vegan mayonnaise already existed).* A team of self-described “biohackers” has taken to Indiegogo to raise money for a project that aims to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to more widespread veganism: cheese.

The name “Real Vegan Cheese!” sounds like the recent spoof ad for “a veggie burger that contains REAL BEEF!” But the project is quite serious: The scientists behind the Real Vegan Cheese project are trying to genetically modify yeast to produce casein, the protein found in cows’ milk. By combining this synthetically produced casein with water, a vegan sugar comparable to lactose, and a plant-derived fat, they hope to produce a realistic vegan milk that can then be processed into “real” cheese. (You might think of it as real in the way that lab-grown beef is “real” meat.) If all that sounds a bit mind-bending, it’s explained in more detail in the video below:

Advertisement

The project is still in its very early stages, and there’s no guarantee it will succeed. But if it does, it will be a huge improvement on the not-very-cheeselike cashew and soy cheeses currently on the market. And it will make veganism—the most ethically and environmentally sound diet—much more appealing to people who, like me, have a hard time imagining life without gorgonzola.

(They’ve already passed their funding goals, but you can donate here.)

*Correction, July 21, 2014: This post originally misstated Hampton Creek’s name as Beyond Eggs. The startup began in 2011 as Beyond Eggs but has since changed its name to Hampton Creek.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 2:44 PM Where Do I Start With Mystery Science Theater 3000?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.