Startup Plans To Reinvent Cream Cheese Using 'Cow's Milk' Made From Fungus

It feels like only a short while ago plant-based dairy alternatives seemed unthinkable. Soy milk, oat milk, and other plant milks were a rare sight at supermarkets, and plant-based cheeses and yogurts were practically non-existent. Today, however, it's a completely different story.

While some opt for plant-based dairy products due to diet constraints and allergies, others have started to willingly go animal-free for more conscious and sustainable reasons. The tide has turned so much in favor of plant-based replacements for dairy that Good Food Institute found $3.1 billion was invested in the alternative protein industry in 2020 — the highest it has ever raised in a single year so far. 

While plant-based options are more prevalent, there is a problem that still prevails. Because dairy substitutes such as vegan cheeses aren't made with cow's milk, they often don't taste or feel like the real deal. California-based startup Perfect Day is out to change that. According to the company's website, the journey began when one of the startup's co-founders, newly turned vegan Ryan Pandya, spent 30 minutes driving to one of the rare Boston bagel shops that served vegan cheese. Much to his disappointment, the cream cheese turned out to be runny and "had the texture and flavor of melted plastic." Yikes!

Perfect Day's dairy alternative closely mimics cow's milk

To figure out how to make cream cheese that has the taste and texture of one made from cow's milk, Perfect Day started looking at what made milk, well, milk. To mimic the structure of cow's milk, it found a cow-free way to produce casein and whey — the two proteins responsible for making milk and all its products so good (per the Perfect Day website).

Perfect Day introduces whey to fungi and ferments them in large tanks, completely eliminating the involvement of cows in the process. The result is a whey protein that is nearly identical to the one found in cow's milk. According to its website, the company currently makes ice creams in partnership with Nick's, Graeter's, and Brave Robot. It has also previously launched limited-edition "cow-free dairy" ice creams under its own brand (via The Spoon).

Business Insider reports that now, the founders are set to tackle the problem that pushed them to launch Perfect Day in the first place — achieving the perfect cow-free cream cheese. Set to launch later this year, the cream cheese will also be using fungus-derived milk and won't contain any lactose, hormones, or cholesterol.

Considering that The Spoon described the brand's cow-less ice creams as having the same creamy mouthfeel as the traditional dairy version and tasting practically indistinguishable from the latter, it's possible that the cream cheese might just be the next big thing in the dairy aisle.