Alt Dairy Startup Launches US$2.9M ‘Bounty Hunt’ For Fungal Strain For Animal-Free Real Milk

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Those Vegan Cowboys, a newly founded alternative dairy startup created by the founders of plant-based meat brand The Vegetarian Butcher, has just issued a record-breaking global “bounty hunt” for a fungal strain that can help develop real milk proteins without the use of cows. The reward for the cow-replacing fungus is set at EUR 2.5 million (US$2.94 million), and the startup plans to use the fungal spore to create classic cheeses and dairy products that are molecularly identical to its conventional counterparts, but without the cruelty or the environmental impact. 

Launched in late September, The Vegan Cowboys are on a “bounty hunt” for their desired fungal strain that will help the Ghent-based startup develop a line of cheese and other dairy alternatives using 100% plant-based precision fermentation technology. Up to EUR 2.5 million (US$2.94 million) is up for grabs, making it a record-breaking bounty hunt and perhaps the first-ever for the alternative protein industry. 

“The right fungal starter culture is worth millions, for it could be the key to the Stainless Steel Cow: the next logical step in modernising dairy farming,” the company said in a statement. 

“Rather than the fastest, we are looking for the most efficient fungus with the best results. Might come from Russia, might come from China, might come from a small lab in Illinois. We’re determined to find this fungus, and make our Stainless Steel Cow the new standard,” said co-founder Jaap Korteweg. 

Source: The Vegan Cowboys

The right fungal starter culture is worth millions, for it could be the key to the Stainless Steel Cow: the next logical step in modernising dairy farming.

The Vegan Cowboys

The Vegan Cowboys was co-founded this year by Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman of The Vegetarian Butcher fame, whose mission is now to speed up the development of fermentation-based dairy alternatives that are molecularly identical to conventional dairy, but requires no cows and is therefore cruelty-free and far more sustainable. 

“Replace the animals, and a whole new vista opens up,” said co-founder Korteweg. “Cows and calves can go back to living life on their own terms.” 

Korteweg adds that a fungal strain that could turn grass into real milk would have huge positive impacts for the community too. “What I like about it is that dairy farmers will still remain vital in the new production chain. They own the best grass land.”

The Vegan Cowboys’ milk lab in Ghent, Belgium (Source: The Vegan Cowboys)

Rather than the fastest, we are looking for the most efficient fungus with the best results. Might come from Russia, might come from China, might come from a small lab in Illinois. We’re determined to find this fungus, and make our Stainless Steel Cow the new standard.

Jaap Korteweg, Co-Founder of The Vegan Cowboys

While the plant-based and cultivated meat sectors are now widely recognised in the alternative protein world, a third category of fermentation has emerged to garner greater spotlight in recent months. Despite being in its infancy, a new GFI report highlights that it isn’t to be underestimated, with fermentation now being applied to create all kinds of alternatives, from meat and dairy to even replicating eggs, animal fats, gelatin and most recently, CBD too. 

So far, a significant number of startups, like Those Vegan Cowboys, have been harnessing fermentation technology to develop dairy alternatives, including the sector’s leading food tech Perfect Day, who are using fermentation to replicate the molecular proteins in cow’s milk in labs, and have recently launched an animal-free ice cream line Brave Robot


All images courtesy of The Vegan Cowboys. 


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