Those Vegan Cowboys Open €15 Million Financing Round to Scale Casein for Animal-Free Cheese

Belgian biotech Those Vegan Cowboys has opened a financing round to raise €15 million to further advance and scale its precision fermentation platform (named Margaret) to develop casein for animal-free cheese.

After selling The Vegetarian Butcher to Unilever, Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman founded Those Vegan Cowboys in 2020 to make grass-fed dairy products using microbes instead of cows. With the funds, they assembled a talented team of scientists and established a “milk lab” in Ghent, Belgium.

“She has already achieved the impossible: real casein, the most difficult and essential ingredient for cheese”

Last year, the company successfully developed a batch of caseins and crafted its first proof of concept, a cheese prototype made with dairy-identical caseins. Now, the company states that it is ready for its next phase of growth, which involves a significant scale-up of its operations. 

“We gave ourselves 7 years to build Margaret. Today we are 4 years in, and she is a reality. She has already achieved the impossible: real casein, the most difficult and essential ingredient for cheese. It is now a matter of refining and upscaling. A feat we can only accomplish by building dedicated plants,” Korteweg shares.

Steel Margaret in a field with a cowboy
© Those Vegan Cowboys

A new way of cheese-making

Precision fermentation involves expressing genes in microbes to make ingredients using a fermentation process similar to beer making. The technology has been available for over 50 years, and its most widely used application is for insulin. In the food industry, multiple companies already use the technology to develop casein, whey, honey, eggs, and even fats.

Caseins are milk proteins found in mammals that provide cheese with its unique qualities. But the dairy industry is responsible for significant GHG emissions that contribute to climate change, water, land, and soil pollution, and animal cruelty. 

According to Those Vegan Cowboys, its casein platform is five times more effective than traditional milk production, providing the necessary proteins to produce the cheese consumers love. In addition, the biotech’s platform also targets grass-fed microbes for casein production to include grass and farmers in this new sustainable cheese production method. 

“We can grow past the cow’s physical limitations in the healthiest way imaginable, and we can feed 5 times the number of people from the same amount of land. It would be great if seeing these cheeses would inspire farmers to see the stainless steel cow as a real option,” Korteweg adds.

The European Union, through its European Innovation Council (EIC) Work Programme 2024, has recently committed €50 million to help precision fermentation startups scale their production.

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