Brow Beat

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

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:

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.