In 2023, New Culture, a precision fermentation firm that recently inked an agreement with agri-giant ADM, will introduce its groundbreaking animal-free mozzarella cheese to pizzerias.
What if all pizzerias sold cheese that tasted, stretched, and melted exactly like dairy, but without the animal cruelty or environmental damage associated with milk production? This is the near future for New Culture, a precision fermentation firm that just secured a huge contract with agricultural giant ADM to have its animal-free mozzarella on pizza menus in the United States within the next year.
While traditional cheese is revered for its flavor and texture, the disadvantages of its production have prompted many to seek out alternatives. One has been the use of plant-based milk that has been subjected to typical cheesemaking techniques to make dairy cheese substitutes. While this strategy has yielded some success for other companies, New Culture has been focused on building the ideal alternative to conventional cheese by manufacturing an animal-free version of casein, the functional protein responsible for many of the desirable characteristics of dairy cheese. This casein, which New Culture produces through precise fermentation, unlocks the ability to produce any vegan cheese, and the company is beginning with mozzarella to appeal to the public.
Through its relationship with ADM, New Culture intends to commercialize its plant-based mozzarella cheese as the first significant step toward its eventual objective of disrupting the $70 billion global dairy sector, of which cheese accounts for around 30 percent. This relationship represents ADM’s continuous investment in sustainable protein sourcing and manufacturing innovation.
Ian Pinner, ADM’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation, said in a statement, “After tasting New Culture’s delicious animal-free mozzarella, we recognized that the company had the potential to play a central role in bringing great-tasting, breakthrough products to the dairy aisle, and we’re excited to bring our global precision fermentation and manufacturing expertise, and our extensive consumer product application capabilities to this effort.” We look forward to collaborating with New Culture to address the rapidly expanding customer demand for alternative dairy and cheese.
Creating superior cheese using vegan casein
Matt Gibson, the co-founder of New Culture, is a native of New Zealand, an island nation famed for its huge dairy farms. A long-time vegan has witnessed the devastation the dairy industry has wreaked on his countries, such as the contamination of lakes and rivers. Dr. Mark Post’s 2013 presentation of the world’s first beef burger produced using cellular agriculture motivated Gibson to contribute to the transformation of the global food system.
Gibson observed how Post altered food product production rather than influencing people to alter their eating habits. Gibson said in an interview, “I really wanted to be a part of it, and dairy stood out as something I had experience with.” “The technology to generate animal-free dairy (precision fermentation) is significantly better developed and easier to bring to market than cultured meat, and I was aware of the science. When I first heard about this $300,000 hamburger, a perfect storm of passions erupted within me.
The production of this burger, the first manufactured from a modest number of animal cells in a laboratory, cost more than $325,000. Since then, however, cellular agriculture has expanded rapidly, and the cost of producing meat in this manner continues to decline as new technologies are created.
Gibson, for his part, chose to approach dairy through a mechanism that did not rely on animal cells: precise fermentation. Instead, New Culture harnesses the power of microbes and programs them to express casein, the protein responsible for the majority of dairy cheese’s qualities, including texture, stretchiness, and more.
“The reason plant-based cheeses are insufficient is that they lack the one essential component that gives dairy cheese its core qualities,” Gibson explains. All of that originates from a single component, casein protein. Without this protein, it would be impossible to produce quality dairy cheese. At New Culture, we strive to produce the finest cheese possible and to do so, we need casein protein.”
Therefore, the team at New Culture turned to precise fermentation to teach bacteria to manufacture the essential protein, which is grown in fermentation tanks and harvested to create a powder that serves as the foundation of its animal-free cheese. “The result is an animal-free dairy cheese,” he explains, adding that the cholesterol-free cheese is also significantly more sustainable without sacrificing any of the attributes of normal dairy cheese.
While other companies, most notably Perfect Day, have cracked the code for animal-free whey, a globular protein that is another component of dairy products, producing casein, according to Gibson, is “an order of magnitude more difficult” but worthwhile because, once solved, “you suddenly open up the world of cheese.”
While New Culture, like others in the industry, does not employ animals in any part of its production process, it is evident that the proteins in the cheese will certainly aggravate milk allergies. However, Gibson suggests that in the distant future, a “hypoallergenic dairy protein” may be developed in which New Culture eliminates milk allergies by deleting the allergenic epitope from the protein.
Improving the dairy business by implementing reforms
Although New Culture is capable of producing any type of cheese, from hard Parmesan to mushy camembert to pungent bleu, the business chose to begin with vegan mozzarella for maximum impact. Gibsons states, “It is the most consumed cheese in the United States.” “From a mission-driven perspective, for us to create the most positive impact as quickly as possible, tackling the mozzarella market and converting those consumers — and especially the largest users of mozzarella, national pizza chains — to animal-free dairy mozzarella will be a huge win from both a revenue and a mission standpoint. They consume and purchase a substantial amount of cheese. Pizza is a beloved food in America.”
With ADM in its corner, the company can produce its animal-free cheeses at a higher capacity and collaborate with ADM to improve the product experience for future cheeses by leveraging its agriculture expertise. The scale-up process will involve a multi-pronged strategy, with New Culture utilizing existing fermentation infrastructure, contracting with other manufacturers, and constructing its own facilities – all of which are required to disrupt the dairy cheese business as a whole.
Additionally, the ADM collaboration implies something intangible. Gibson states: “Seeing these major, established companies comprehend the relevance and realism of what New Culture is doing is a powerful experience.” “They do not view this as a gimmick or passing fad. They view this as the future and wish to participate in it. Not only from a financial standpoint but also from a desire to better the earth and secure a future for future generations. This is one of the reasons we chose to continue our cooperation with ADM, as they are also highly aligned on this issue.”
In 2023, New Culture’s unique vegan mozzarella will appear on pizza menus, and its agreement with ADM will allow the company to “dream bigger,” according to Gibson.