Photo by paPisc via Flickr.

New Culture, a company making cheese through genetically engineered microbes, has closed a $3.5 million seed round of funding led by Evolv Ventures, the venture fund of Kraft-Heinz. Bee Partners, Mayfield, CPT Capital, Boost VC, and SOSV also participated in the round.

Started in New Zealand and recently relocated to San Francisco, New Culture makes animal-free cheese not with plant-based ingredients but with biotechnology in a lab. As my colleague Catherine Lamb explained when she spoke to New Culture this April:

As of now, there aren’t any plant-based options that can mimic casein [a milk protein] well enough to fool anyone. So New Culture’s team decided to make it themselves using something called “recombinant protein technology.” The company uses genetically modified microbes — like yeast — and “trains” them to produce certain proteins, like casein. The team then adds water, plant-based fat, sugar, and minerals to the casein, which creates something that acts and tastes a lot like milk.

New Culture just graduated from the IndieBio accelerator in San Francisco, a program, whose past participants also include companies like cultured meat company Memphis Meats and Finless Foods, which makes cell-based fish.

They’re not the only company out there attempting to make animal-free dairy products out of more than coconut or soy. Perfect Day, who partnered with food processing company ADM in 2018, uses similar technology to create dairy proteins without any actual cow involved. Currently they operate under a B2B model, selling their product to CPGs. The company also recently did an initial product launch of an ice cream made with their flora-based milk.

New Culture, on the other hand, is targeting high-end restaurants as a starting point to launch their cheese. But while the company did a taste test at the IndieBio demo day, there’s no actual cheese yet available to the public. As Lamb points out, the company has a ways to go before it reaches that point. New Culture said in this week’s press release that it is looking to set up an R&D and fermentation facility as well as further expand its team with this seed investment.

Want more on alternative dairy products? Perfect Day cofounder Perumal Gandhi will be speaking at this year’s SKS North America, which takes place October 7–8 in Seattle. Snag your tickets here.

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Jenn is a writer and editor for The Spoon who covers restaurant tech and food delivery, developments in agriculture and indoor farming, and startup accelerators and incubators. On the side, she moonlights as a ghostwriter for tech industry executives and spends a lot of time on the road exploring food developments in more remote parts of the country. Previously, she was managing editor of Gigaom’s market research department and was once a competitive pinball player. Jenn splits her time between NYC and Nashville, TN.

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