Biohackers work in earnest on a seeming oxymoron
April 15, 2015 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Can Biohackers Succeed At Making 'Real Vegan Cheese'? This article gives a brief overview of the pros and cons of how plausible this is. Different scientist take a crack at answering yea or nay to this.

This is a more substantive article, with a lot more about the lab working on this:
Cow Milk Without the Cow is Coming to Change Food Forever
posted by Michele in California (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hope so, this would be awesome! I would also eat vat-grown meat without thinking about it for a second. I'd actually also eat a person over a cow, if given the choice. But would I eat myself before eating a stranger? I don't know, I guess it would depend on which cut.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:13 PM on April 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Most vegans I know have verified that giving up dairy is waaay harder than giving up meat. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 6:19 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tried a vegan cheese recipe tonight. It was good but it wasn't...CHEESE.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:27 PM on April 15, 2015


But will it suck?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:29 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Go humans
posted by mrgroweler at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2015


I went vegan a couple months back and I honestly think cheese is kind of overhyped culturally the same way bacon is, though perhaps to a lesser degree. YMMV. I haven't really missed it much, so I haven't bothered getting deep into vegan cheese alternatives, although I love me some Daiya shreds on a pizza or grilled cheese sandwich (it took me like a month to get around to actually getting some, though, for an idea of how attached to cheese I was). For the people who are really into cheese, though, I've heard Miyoko's Creamery puts out some fantastic nut cheeses. She also has a book out on making vegan cheeses yourself.
posted by Gymnopedist at 6:41 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Chau vegan cheese slices are amazing - definitely the closest thing to real cheese I've ever had.
posted by GuyZero at 6:42 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've had the Miyoko's Classic Double Cream Chive from Whole Foods... it's also pretty good.

it's unbelievably expensive though. Like over $10 for 6.5oz. It's like quadruple the price of generic cream cheese.
posted by GuyZero at 6:43 PM on April 15, 2015


I honestly think cheese is kind of overhyped culturally the same way bacon is, though perhaps to a lesser degree.

You have no idea how much food has cheese in it until you try to get rid of it. If you want to eat Chinese or Indian all the time - which is not that hard - sure, but if you want anything vaguely European, it's tough.
posted by GuyZero at 6:44 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh and finally... cashews are a crazy nut to grow and almonds take a huge amount of that rare California water to grow, so while no animals died making it, vegan cheese is definitely not easy on the environment.
posted by GuyZero at 6:45 PM on April 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


I honestly think cheese is kind of overhyped culturally the same way bacon is, though perhaps to a lesser degree. YMMV. I haven't really missed it much

Varying mileage: I've given up cheese a few times and each time I miss it terribly -- certainly much more than I miss bacon, which I might just incidentally not eat for a few weeks at a time, much as I enjoy it.

I could give up pork entirely for a good while on a dare or doctor's advice, but cheese feels like some kind of withdrawal.
posted by weston at 6:52 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious if they can engineer it to not trigger dairy allergies.
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:01 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I went vegan a couple months back and I honestly think cheese is kind of overhyped culturally

No matter how much hype cheese gets, it will never be "over"; cheese will always be underhyped in comparison to its overwhelming deliciousness.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:05 PM on April 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


And step one is make fake cow DNAs? Possible results include something that tastes like cheese (1 chance in about ten million), somebody accidentally getting superpowers (1 in a hundred thousand or so), and a mutant cowpocalypse (about three in ten).
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:09 PM on April 15, 2015


*reads article while eating slabs of aged Cabot cheddar directly off the knife*
posted by Earthtopus at 7:09 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


GuyZero:
You have no idea how much food has cheese in it until you try to get rid of it. If you want to eat Chinese or Indian all the time - which is not that hard - sure, but if you want anything vaguely European, it's tough.

This can be difficult in restaurants, but I haven't really found the same issue in my own kitchen. Then again, looking back at some of the recipes I've been using recently, I seem to gravitate toward vegan adapations of Mexican food etc. I think the key here is using vegan recipes that are tuned for not having cheese. I like (okay LOVE -- I made those breakfast nachos last month. wow) Post Punk Kitchen. Side note: Veganism for me has had this wonderful side benefit of not caring about culinary purity because making most things vegan throws it out the window anyway. Much sushi has resulted.


Oh and finally... cashews are a crazy nut to grow and almonds take a huge amount of that rare California water to grow, so while no animals died making it, vegan cheese is definitely not easy on the environment.

I haven't really looked into making a direct comparison, but the water footprint for vegan cheese could very well be smaller than the water footprint for dairy cheeses. Also, given the expense I don't think many vegans eat as much vegan cheese as they did dairy cheese pre-veganism. I know I used to get a pound or two of cheese every week, yet in the past month I've used like, two bags of Daiya shreds for pizzas, grilled cheese, etc.

weston:
but cheese feels like some kind of withdrawal.

You could be onto something. I think it's worth noting that being ethically motivated to do anything tends to make sticking to it a lot easier, so vegans (by definition ethically motivated folks) are likely to report the requisite dietary changes being pretty easy. A lot of times it feels like a switch has been flipped and re: animal agriculture we're just like "CYA NERDS ima go do crazy things with that pile of avocados"
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:10 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This doesn't immediately answer the almond water consumption question but is a start. [Mother Jones, 2014-02 issue, Where's California's Water Going?]
posted by aydeejones at 7:16 PM on April 15, 2015


I am sympathetic to the vegan cause, having gone through a period of veganism myself, but a sort of ersatz gouda while maybe being cheese, doesn't mean much more to Real Cheese than Mateus is to Real Wine (and a Real Hangover.)
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 7:22 PM on April 15, 2015


How thirsty is your milk? (TLDR: Dairy > Almond > Soy)
posted by gueneverey at 7:38 PM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was in the USA a few months ago when MeFi was discussing fake meat and cheese last. I was pleasantly surprised! Fake meat has come a long way, and some fake cheese (Daiyo mostly) wasn't actively horrible. I even made myself a vegan taco that was sort of OK.

Yes, I have low standards.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:09 PM on April 15, 2015


Yeah, it's a lot easier to be vegan these days even compared with just five or six years ago, even here in Australia. There's some halfway decent stuff that isn't just carbo fillers with garlic. Cashew is a shitty and inefficient cheese substitute but nevertheless, we bought some cashew cream cheese the other day (forget the brand, but it was expensive) that was pretty damn good.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:17 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, CALIFORNIA dairy cows eat alfalfa that has been grown in irrigated fields.
Midwestern cows eat alfalfa that is grown without irrigation assistance. If you buy your Midwestern dairy carefully you can drink grass fed cow/goat/sheep milk that very little effect on anyone's water supply.
Farming appropriately for the needs of the crop/animal with regard to what the environment supplies has been lost. Much of the small scale Midwest dairy industry has been gutted and instead we water crops in California to ultimately ship milk back to Iowa. It's all wrong.
posted by littlewater at 10:11 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's all wrong.

I agree. Gallons of water per serving of food is more interesting than relevant, as resources go, and California has gone off the rails when it comes to making water a mere commodity to casually move from one geographical basin to another. Water poured on the ground to grow something, assuming no contamination, is not wasted when it either goes down into the aquifer, or when the leaves of a plant transpire water into the air to make rain. We might compare the wildlife or topsoil displaced by humans to make a more immediate point on farm impact, but to compare water we need to know that it flows by the billions of gallons into the oceans each day. and there is relative waste being caused by pavement and drainage systems designed to prevent flooding. Previously, beavers and muskrats would have made dams that caused more fresh water to be absorbed into the ground and surrounding plants. It's tempting to use a water chart to value everything during a drought, yet we still have the option to implement simple home cisterns to trap rainwater from rooftops, to be used for trees and gardens without metering.
posted by Brian B. at 10:54 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm fully confident that within 20 years this will be a commercial product. Maybe even 10. It'll be an expensive artisanal thing at first for veg* people sold at whole foods, but i bet within 50 years it'll be the cheapest bargain bin "deli slices" stuff at walmart and real cheese/meat will be the cool fashion statement thing you go to a fancy bistro to buy.

Like closed circuit indoor farms though, it's the solution. There's just no way analog farming, or even nut/vegetable based products can compete with directly culturing or processing this stuff in a factory.

People are going to take vacations to small farms to eat a steak with some fresh bread and real cheese/milk, and have to book it months in advance. It'll be an extravagance somewhere between an international vacation and chartering a yacht depending on how much "history" the farm has.
posted by emptythought at 10:59 PM on April 15, 2015


I disagree: if people get used to eating vat-grown products they'll probably be repulsed at the idea of eating flesh. I mean, I'm an omnivore and even I get a bit squicked by it sometimes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:40 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I heard On Point today about "fake meat", which is meat-like protein strands created out of yellow peas and soy. The company head interviewed was from Beyond Meat, and I have to say, based on what he was saying about how they create it, I'm quite interested in trying it.

It's not made through DNA hacking. It's processing plants somehow. So, similar idea (duplicate the proteins) through different means.

Things seem to be moving in an interesting direction suddenly when it comes to food. I wonder what we will be eating in 10 years? (If it's insects or nothing I will choose to starve to death.)
posted by hippybear at 1:05 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most vegans I know have verified that giving up dairy is waaay harder than giving up meat. FWIW.

Cheese changed the course of Western civilization
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:55 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a growing suspicion that in the future, synthesized foods and goods will be the arena of the masses and only the wealthy elite will be able to afford the genuine article.

Enjoy your days savoring a luxuriant triple-creme Brie while ye may, bioengineered cheese is on the way
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 2:48 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a backer and am looking forward to the stretch goal of narwal cheese!

Been vegan form 15 years and don't miss cheese particularly, but know that it's the single obstacle for my gf when it comes to veganism; We've agreed to call the cheese-like-stuff I heat up on toast yellow-melt
posted by monocultured at 4:03 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gotta say as a vegan, I do eat Daiya and cashew cheeses (either my own or store bought) but I eat them with less frequency as I did and would have as a omni back in the day. Vegan cheese is delicious, but much like dairy cheese, you prolly shouldn't be eating it all the time either!
posted by Kitteh at 6:00 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have to say, based on what he was saying about how they create it, I'm quite interested in trying it.

Beyond Meat is an interesting case, because, while it does taste good, and obvious work has gone into the texture, so that the chicken-type product feels different in the mouth than the beef, it still isn't really at all like meat. The stringiness of the proteins just isn't there, and if you bite the wrong way (against the grain?), it is surprisingly plastic-textured.

Still, very tasty!

(Now, this yeast-cheese on the other hand, I have very high hopes for, because I haaaaaaate fake cheese. Daiya is an abomination, nut cheeses melt like some sort of wax you buy at a craft store, and not having any cheese at all leads to a sense of emptiness and despair!)
posted by mittens at 6:21 AM on April 16, 2015


I honestly think cheese is kind of overhyped culturally
I see what you did there.

Chau [sic] vegan cheese slices are amazing - definitely the closest thing to real cheese I've ever had.
Yes and yes. I got some of their coconut milk and black pepper cheese. The stuff is out of sight. They also make some mushroom seitan deli slices that are fantastic too. In fact, anything that Field Roast makes is pretty much amazing. Reasonably prices and readily available too.
posted by slogger at 6:35 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the trick to missing cheese less is to make sure that you're otherwise getting enough fat in your diet. A vegan diet makes it incredibly easy to cook up beans, rice, steamed vegetables, maybe some bread, a salad -- none of these inherently have very much oil or fat in them. This, combined with the late-20th-century vilification of fat, means that a lot of vegans are probably getting way less fat than normal.

Cheese is full of fat, but vegetarians tend to think of it primarily as "protein", and don't realize that what they are craving when they crave cheese is, at least in good part, some fat. (also some cheese is slightly sweet, which is a different issue).

Fat is necessary for not just flavor and a feeling of fullness, but (I think -- need to verify this) to help the absorption of some vitamins.

To conclude: put a tablespoon of oil in your and some lemon juice in your lentils, and use a decent amount of mild olive oil for dipping your french bread, maybe some peanut butter spread on crackers for dessert -- after all that, see if your craving for cheese diminishes.
posted by amtho at 6:39 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes and yes. I got some of their coconut milk and black pepper cheese. The stuff is out of sight. They also make some mushroom seitan deli slices that are fantastic too. In fact, anything that Field Roast makes is pretty much amazing. Reasonably prices and readily available too

You have no idea how sad I am that Field Roast has been stopped by the Canadian government from selling any of their products here anymore.

I would love to buy some of Miyoko's nut-based cheeses but since I have her cookbook, it's still win-win for me for cheesy goodness. (Also, I don't care. I love making nooch-based cheese sauces for mac'n'cheese or nachos.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:04 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I went off dairy for several years trying to figure out my lactose intolerance, I probably tried every vegan cheese and fake dairy product on the market at the time. I don't often want to tell people their subjective experience of food is wrong, but I suspect there's a lot of people out there stating that vegan cheeses taste just like the real thing who have not had much experience with cheese outside of Kraft singles and Polly-O, or maybe just don't enjoy cheese.
posted by griphus at 7:27 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I loved cheese dearly--enough where I would spend my meager barista paychecks at the cheese counter of Whole Foods for some lovely stuff--but it's important to remember that vegan cheese has come a long-ass way from the shit that existed when I wasn't vegan. It's changing and getting better all the time so I have had much experience with cheese, and I expect that I will continue to get better and replicate the flavor that people tend to miss.
posted by Kitteh at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would certainly hope so. I recently had some fake chicken which, inside a stromboli, would have absolutely fooled me if no one had told me it was fake. On the other hand, I still can't eat real cream cheese, and I buy a different brand of fake cream cheese when I'm at a store that has it, and I've yet to encounter something that comes remotely close to the texture and taste of the real thing (and I still eat it because I guess I'd rather waste money and/or eat a bagel, lox and library paste than have a bagel, lox and butter.)
posted by griphus at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2015


Even real cream cheese is hard to get right... honestly, I've never had a generic brand of real cream cheese that didn't taste and feel plasticky compared to Philadelphia.
posted by gilrain at 9:47 AM on April 16, 2015


I wish the best of luck to all the folks working on vegan cheese, but I'm not really going to be interested in eating it until the headlines are more like "Scientists develop vegan Saint-André with creamy center" or "Finally, vegan Raclette that melts just like the real thing!"
posted by snofoam at 10:23 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


but I suspect there's a lot of people out there stating that vegan cheeses taste just like the real thing who have not had much experience with cheese

When evaluating meat and cheese replacements, the important thing (and I know many around here emphasize this) is to judge it on its own merits, and not as a replica of the animal product its modeled on. Do the Field Roast deli slices provide an exact replacement for roast beef and provolone? Not even close. But do they taste delicious between two slices of good whole grain bread, with some fresh tomato, lettuce and a schmear of Vegannaise? Aw hell yeah.
posted by slogger at 11:04 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"judge it on its own merits, and not as a replica of the animal product its modeled on"

I feel like using the word cheese to describe these things is a recipe for disappointment. Cheese is literally thousands of different things with different tastes and textures. Cheeses are made of milk, but also of bacteria. Many ripen over time: mild and firm today, stinky and gooey in a couple weeks, but edible at both times depending on one's preference.

I feel like the best vegan cheese substitutes can hope for in the near future is to approximate existing dairy-based cheese substitutes, the processed "cheese products" like American. This is surely not a bad start, but also doesn't have anything to do with cheese, per se.
posted by snofoam at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


But that's the thing with fermented cashew cheeses that some people are doing; the majority of them are soft and tangy and funky, nothing at all like American "cheese products." I would say you are correct in terms of mainstream vegan cheese you can buy in supermarkets, but I know Tal Ronnen and Miyoko Schinner are selling their more "upscale" product in places like Whole Foods.
posted by Kitteh at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do love the in-house tofus that one can get in Restaurants in Japan, and I think they are analogous to cheese in many ways, but I also don't think of them as cheese. The fermented cashew stuff you describe does sound like something I am interested in eating, thanks for hipping me to that.
posted by snofoam at 7:52 PM on April 16, 2015


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