Californian Startup Achieves Casein Cheese Milestone: “We Can Make 25,000 Pizzas’ Worth of Animal-Free Mozzarella”
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US animal-free cheese producer New Culture has announced that it has successfully scaled up its precision fermentation process to manufacturing levels, claiming it can now produce 25,000 pizzas’ worth of cheese per batch. The San Francisco startup claims it’s the world’s first animal-free casein and the first to be produced at this scale using precision fermentation.
The company’s announcement marks a milestone in the precision fermentation sector – no other company that we have reported on has been able to achieve this scale of production for animal-free casein. New Culture says this will reduce manufacturing costs by 80% and production capacity to reach price parity with conventional mozzarella in three years when it predicts its annual casein volumes to reach more than 14 million pizzas’ worth of cheese.
When asked about exact production figures such as how many kgs of casein the company had produced to date and how much casein was in every kilogram of its mozzarella, New Culture Marketing Director Priya Kumar said via email: “We’re not ready to share details about exact casein quantities or yields, but scaling animal-free casein production capacity to hundreds and thousands of kilograms comes with a number of technical challenges and our team has proven to be the first to do it.”
Pressed on the size and number of fermenters New Culture is running – and whether this was a co-manufacturing facility – Kumar reiterated the aforementioned 25,000 figure and confirmed the brand worked with an external partner to make the jump from pilot level to manufacturing. Dry powder yields per liter of fermentation were not disclosed either.
Green Queen also asked about what other ingredients make up the company’s mozzarella, in addition to the casein powder. According to Kumar, “To make our cheese, we take our animal-free casein protein and add water, fat, a touch of sugar, vitamins, and minerals to match the profile of animal-based mozzarella as closely as possible.”
In terms of the chemical composition, she added: “The nutritional profile of our cheese is very similar to conventional, animal-based cheese. However, unlike conventional cheese, ours is free from cholesterol, lactose, and trace hormones and antibiotics because we don’t use any animal-derived ingredients.”
New Culture, which secured a $25M oversubscribed Series A funding round in 2021, launched its animal-free mozzarella at Nancy Silverton’s iconic Los Angeles restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, in May. This marked its first foray into food service, with Silverton praising the ‘integrity’ of the product.
Dairy developments in precision fermentation
There are approximately 30 precision fermentation companies working on dairy worldwide, and most, such as Perfect Day and Remilk, are focused on producing whey protein. Only a handful are working on casein, which is much more challenging to produce but a crucial part of what makes cheese stretch and melt. As New Culture co-founder Matt Gibson told FoodNavigator in 2021, whey “only makes limited cheeses” like ricotta and cream cheese, while casein allows you to make any kind of cheese with traditional cheesemaking processes. Further, Gibson said that scaling up casein production via precision fermentation is more difficult than whey protein manufacturing.
Commenting on the news, Irina Gerry, CMO of Change Foods and vice-chair of the Precision Fermentation Alliance, whose startup is focused on making casein, told Green Queen: “It’s an exciting proof point for the category. Animal-free casein is very challenging to produce and New Culture appears to be making great progress toward commercialisation. Of course, challenges remain. Driving down costs, securing reliable scaled manufacturing capacity, securing distribution and gaining consumer acceptance are among them. This is, however, a significant milestone for the company, and the industry as a whole.”
Austrian startup Fermify, India’s Zero Cow Factory, and Paris-based Standing Ovation have all received investment in the last year or so to develop their precision-fermented casein protein. Meanwhile, US startup Nobell Foods, which makes soy-derived casein protein using molecular farming, is gearing up to launch its first product.
With almost $4B in total investments, fermentation is a burgeoning category with positive consumer interest. In March, a survey by Perfect Day, Cargill and the Hartman Group found that 77% of US adults are willing to try precision fermentation products once they understand its benefits. Similarly, Formo teamed up with the University of Saskatchewan in May for a landmark study, which revealed that 79% of UK dairy consumers are seeking cheese produced from microbes.
“Our world-class team at New Culture has solved a string of incredibly complex technical challenges in order to produce our animal-free casein at this scale,” said New Culture co-founder and chief scientific officer Inja Radman. “We are redefining the boundaries of what’s possible in dairy in a way that isn’t being done anywhere else.”