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A Belgium-based company called Those Vegan Cowboys is gearing up to take on the dairy industry. Using precision fermentation, the start-up aims to reinvent all cheese varieties for the sake of the planet.
Those Vegan Cowboys
Entrepreneurs Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman turned their attention to dairy after selling their plant-based meat brand, The Vegetarian Butcher (De Vegetarische Slager), in 2018.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Korteweg explained that cheese was the hardest habit to kick when going vegan. “There are no good vegan cheeses,” he said to the publication.
Determined to change this, the pair began exploring ways to create caseins – the main protein in cow’s milk. They’re doing this using fermentation and gene-splicing techniques.
The team aims to replicate the natural process of a cow eating grass, which is fermented by microbes in their bodies and produces milk proteins. To do this, they insert fungus or yeast into a copy of cow DNA and place the substance into steel tanks.
There, it reacts with organic materials and produces caseins. These are mixed with fats to produce a milky liquid.
“The cow is the processor between grass and cheese,” Korteweg explained to Bloomberg. “So the fungi are the cow in our line.”
A sustainable take on dairy
The team behind Those Vegan Cowboys was motivated, in part, by the environmental impact of dairy.
“The dairy sector is not a very sustainable industry,” Will van den Tweel, project director at Those Vegan Cowboys, said to FoodIngredientsFirst. “In the Netherlands and other European regions, there are major environmental issues relating to dairy and meat production.”
“You also need an enormous amount of land and lots of water for the production of any dairy. And so, alternatives are needed,” they added.
The company’s technology sidesteps a lot of these resource requirements, van den Tweel says.
”This can be a very efficient way for producing the milk proteins itself, whereby the environmental impact is reduced about five-fold,” he explained. “Developing and scaling such technology, however, will take time. To create the effect, it will also need to be cost-competitive with the current traditional way of production.”
But Those Vegan Cowboys isn’t shying away from the challenge. “If you have the identical casein, you can make all kinds of cheese,” Korteweg told Bloomberg. “It’s our goal to copy them all.”