New Culture ♥ Mozzarella

May 15, 2024
4 min read
Featured Image

When we first met the New Culture team in 2019, they were part of IndieBio’s groundbreaking startup program in San Francisco. Their mission was clear: lead the global transition to an animal-free, sustainable dairy future. Their first product: melty, stretchy, animal-free mozzarella. Their first market: the $50bn US pizzeria market.

Like all of the startups we back in our Biological Machines vector, they were creating a never-before-possible product to unlock a novel market. In this case, New Culture’s cheese would finally move the needle for the animal-free cheese market, which today still remains at less than 1% market penetration due to the poor quality of existing plant-based options despite the overwhelming consumer demand for an alternative.

Fast-forward to now: the New Culture team has achieved the product vision they set for themselves back at IndieBio. Their animal-free mozzarella is nothing short of, well, mozzarella. Except, as promised, it’s lactose-free, cholesterol-free, soy-free, nut-free, orders of magnitude more sustainable than conventional dairy, and far kinder on the global food system. Simply put, regardless of your diet, background, or beliefs, New Culture makes cheese better for everyone.

Experiencing the New Culture "Food Room"

From casein.

What sets them apart - what first drew us to New Culture for their seed round, and then again for their Series A - is their unmatched ability to make animal-free casein protein, the essential ingredient in cheese. And, at Bee, we’ve had a front row look into the team’s steady beat of incredible breakthroughs over the last five-plus years.

They’re now making animal-free casein at scale, have secured regulatory status for commercial sale, announced their first commercial deal, and have partnerships with some of the leading manufacturing partners in the bio-products space. 

"A cheese that tastes great, that chefs want to cook with, and that consumers crave."

What is casein and why is it so important? It’s the protein that is responsible for everything we love about cheese. The melt, the stretch, the mouthfeel, the crumble - it’s all thanks to casein protein. Until New Culture came along, no one had figured out a way to make casein protein at scale without animal milk. They cracked the code by using precision fermentation to make casein with a process similar to brewing beer: feed sugar to microbes, microbes produce casein (instead of an IPA). The casein is then recovered and purified as a powder, mixed with water, salt, plant-based fats, and turned into delicious mozzarella. No cow needed.

Let's eat.

So when the New Culture team recently invited Tim and I to visit their East Bay office for a pizza tasting, it wasn’t just a chance to see the company’s growth (now a team of 30) but to taste the progress they’ve made over the years. And, with the company’s commercial launch slated for later this year at Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, we wanted to see the cheese in action before it hits the big time.

The New Culture team sure knows how to host a pizza party.

Following a tour of their lab spaces, we ended up in the “food room” for the tasting. Down to the tasteful culinary details and thoughtfully branded New Culture napkins, it’s clear they not only care about casein, but they also take their brand and pizza seriously. We learned about tomato sauces, pizza ovens, pizza types, cheese graters and the all-important basil leaf. We had the chance to see New Culture cheese smoothly shredded on a standard box grater and try the bouncy cheese raw.

Team members then prepared a delicious New Culture margherita using a version of Nancy Silverton’s crispy/chewy dough that they had fermented for three days. To top off the visit before wrapping up, the team surprised us with New Culture mozzarella sticks. We had so much fun with their animal-free mozzarella sticks that we can’t wait for every elementary schooler in the country (and their parents!) to get their hands on one.

The animal-free cheese market is still at less than 1% market penetration due to the poor quality of existing plant-based options.

The future today.

So how did the cheese taste? There’s something oddly affirming about category-transforming products. At first, they can be confusing, leaving you asking “How?” and “Can it be?”

Then those questions shift to feelings of amazement and delight. Finally, you’re left with this comforting sense of affirmation: the product just works, it should’ve been there all along, it’s what you need. That’s how we felt after tasting pizza with New Culture cheese.

Finally, a mozzarella that tastes like mozzarella, without any animal inputs. The mouthfeel, the stretch, the bubbling in the oven. And yet, relative to conventional mozzarella, an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 97% reduction in land use, 98% reduction in water use. A cheese that tastes great, that chefs want to cook with, and that consumers crave. A cheese that will shape the future bioeconomy. Put another way - it just works, it should’ve been there all along, it’s exactly what we all need.

Matt and Inja came through our third fund, and since the investment, the team has continued to grow its service and personnel. Click here to learn more about the Company and Team, or here if you are a Founder innovating in any of our three vectors.

No Comments.