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

Brow Beat
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

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Outward
Oct. 22 2014 9:00 AM Wailing Against the Pansies: Homophobia in Whiplash
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.