Ex Chipotle Exec Debuts Chef-Driven, Science-Backed Vegan Cheese Brand

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Co-founded by chef/restauranteur Margaux Riccio and ex-Chipotle executive Tim Wildin, Vertage is the latest vegan cheese brand to debut in the US market. The dairy-free range has launched across select foodservice channels in Washington DC. According to the founders, retail expansion is also on the cards. 

Vertage cheeses, which include mozzarella and cheddar, are described as being “a combination of traditional techniques and fresh science”, a result of extensive experimentation that has resulted in proprietary precision fermentation methodologies. The company claims that its vegan cheese rivals conventional counterparts in taste, nutrition, value, and sustainability.

Science in the kitchen

Alongside chief cheesemaker Riccio, who was motivated by her personal dairy allergy, Vertage’s “cheese board” comprises of foodservice industry heavy-hitters such as Iron Chef Nate Appleman and James Beard award winner JJ Johnson. Wildin himself has long been a champion of corporate sustainability. During his tenure at Chipotle, he helped spearhead the addition of vegan sofritas made from non-GMO soy to the chain’s menu.

The team says it has taken a multidisciplinary approach to animal-free cheesemaking, leveraging mycelium fermentation and microbial bio-design, with strategic partnerships in place for continued technology application. No two product lines are manufactured in the same way. The chefs pick a starting ingredient: cashew, oat, soy or almond, before handing it over to the fermentation experts to extract a certain flavour note. “We use traditional cheesemaking methods […] and a custom blend of cultures to develop flavor and texture,” explains Wildin.

The result is “unlike what else is out there on the market.”

Expansion in mind

Vertage, which is venture-backed, is currently seed funding. Three products are fully developed: fresh mozzarella, cream cheese, and hard cheddar; more still are in development including a muenster, smoked gouda, blue cheese, and a crumble. Perfecting the cheeses involves regular feedback from professional chefs.

“Vertage is currently available at select restaurants in Washington DC,” said Wildin. So far, this list includes Andy’s Pizza, Call Your Mother and Cielo Rojo, who are all using the products in their menu items.

“This has been an invaluable part of our R&D process in collaboration with top DC-area chefs – we create cheeses, incorporate chefs’ feedback, and gain consumer insights in real-time. We’re busy commercializing the mozzarella and cream cheese in order to launch more broadly into food service in early 2022 in select markets, so we expect to see Vertage on many more menus as our cheeses become available for chefs.”

The suggestion to move into food service ahead of retail was Wildin’s. He told Green Queen that eventually, Vertage will be a retail brand that can compete with other plant-based products in terms of price, but for now, food service comes first though. This is a go-to-market strategy employed by many plant-based food brands including, most famously, Impossible Foods.

And how does it taste?

Green Queen Media’s Los Angeles-based Alessandra Franco was sent a selection of Vertage cheeses and she was impressed both on the texture and the taste front. “We tried the smoked Gouda and Muenster cheeses, which have bold flavors that are very close to that of their animal counterparts. The mozzarella melts nicely on a pizza pie and the goat cheese is crumbly and super ‘goat cheesy’!


All images courtesy of Vertage.

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