The main reason cheese came into existence was for the storage of milk. This highly nutritious, valuable animal product began to be exploited to great effect by ancient humans, but it was also very sensitive to spoiling.
The answer? Ripening and fermenting as a means of preservation, or, in other words, cheese making.
Over thousands of years, different cultures have been innovating this product. Today, almost all cultures that enjoy dairy have their own cheeses, with their own properties, profiles, and values. Their results represent the people and culture behind the cheese.
For something that started out as very functional, cheese is now considered by most people as a pleasure. And thanks to generations of development, the cultural heritage of cheese is incredibly rich and diverse, with thousands of wildly different cheeses hailing from all corners of the world. Despite originating from the same place, a roquefort barely compares to a camembert, and mozzarella couldn’t be more different to cottage cheese.
This pleasure element of cheese can also be described as hedonism—which is a very culturally specific concept. What’s considered hedonistic in Chinese culture is very different from Spanish, and so on. There are different attributes of a food product that contribute to its hedonism, too.
How do we deliver the hedonism that comes from thousands of years of innovation and cultural development, with a completely new product?
In Europe, hedonism in cheese is connected to creaminess and the specific flavour experience. And the diversity of taste that cheese can achieve is mostly thanks to the ripening and fermentation process. For me, Saint-Marcellin is one of my favourite cheeses from my time living in France. It is incredibly creamy, and its high fat content causes it to melt at room temperature. I’m also deeply connected to manchego because of my Spanish heritage—both very different, both triggering strong memories and emotions.
At Formo, this is where one of our main challenges presents itself: how do we deliver the hedonism that comes from thousands of years of innovation and cultural development, with a completely new product?
It’s the same song, but a new interpretation which brings it up to date with current culture.
In terms of its lifecycle, veganism is barely an infant when compared to omnivorous diets. This difference prevents us from shortcutting the heritage, and even with modern technology, it would still take hundreds of years to develop new cultures and meaning around vegan products. But we don’t plan on starting from zero. We’re remixing what’s already there.
We love cheese, and we know that asking people to stop eating it would put a lot of cultural collateral into danger—akin to saying that hundreds of years of heritage are no longer viable. Instead, we’re looking to blend these traditional, time-honoured processes into our products. Through cellular agriculture, we’re trying to create the same kind of curd you’d find in camembert, minus the cow.
When we talk about remixing the heritage, we do so because the way our vegan cheese alternative is made isn’t fundamentally different—it’s the same song, but a new interpretation which brings it up to date with current culture.
We want to maintain the vibrant culture, art, and richness of the makers. Once we’ve made our vegan curd, the next steps we place respectfully in the hands of master cheese makers.
By working with artisans and cheese masters, it’s our belief that they’ll find our proteins just as workable as traditional curds. And as the technology advances, it’s our vision that cheese makers will be able to specify desirable attributes for new cheeses, which we’ll gladly deliver—cultural heritage safely intact.
Cheese masters today invent cheeses constantly. The heritage isn’t standing still, because the culture isn’t standing still. They create new cheeses inspired by traditional cheeses, and we hope that together we can bring new types of vegan cheese alternatives to the table which everyone can enjoy, vegan or otherwise.
Dr. Javier Romero is Head of Innovation at Formo (formerly Legendairy Foods) and this article is one part of a series exploring the future of dairy through the lens of Formo's DNA.