Nour Akbaraly spread his prototypes on a jacked-up wooden plate. The flat, white loaf looks like a Camembert that is a bit too small. The darker one, with its brownish bark, could almost be an époisse. Akbaraly is a Cheese Executive Officer - a title that many in France would like to have - unique: his company does not produce the pieces from cow or goat milk, but from cashew nuts and soybeans.
NourAkbaraly is 33 years old and studied agricultural engineering. He worked as a management consultant for five years, then dropped out to start his own startup, Les Nouveaux Affineurs . He doesn't call himself a militant vegan, but rather a businessman. "The demand for vegan cheese is growing, but unlike alternative meat, the supply is still very poor," says Akbaraly. "I've found that most vegan cheese alternatives are uninteresting to customers. They just don't taste good."
He made his first experiments with the millennia-old fermentation process around two years ago in his own refrigerator at home, says Akbaraly. It quickly became a small laboratory, he met experienced cheese makers and even top Parisian chefs. Two years of research to answer this one question: How do you manage to let a pampe made from soybeans and cashew nuts similar to animal milk with the help of microorganisms rot so that in the end something comes out that has at least a little bit of cheese in texture, appearance, taste and smell remind?
"It is very complex," says the entrepreneur. French cheese recipes have been refined over the centuries. And the now slowly successful meat substitute brands such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods are the result of meticulous, long-term research. Akbaraly already sells three types of soft cheese and two variations of fresh cheese through a network of rather idealistic vegan shops in big cities. But he still calls them beta versions and says: "We still have a lot of construction sites, we still have to improve the products a lot."
"We don't want to stay in a vegan niche"
Indeed: Although their consistency, color and even the smell of the rind are quite close to mild cheeses such as brie, a cashew taste on the tongue can still be clearly heard in all varieties. The company is a long way from the taste explosions of a Munster, Époisses' or Montd'Ors. Nevertheless: You can understand why some fans are already sending the products to England today. Loafs don't just look like real cheese, their mild nutty taste with its sometimes slightly sour yeast notes is anything but unpleasant.
"We don't want to replace classic cheese at all, but rather expand the spectrum," says Akbaraly. In the meantime, the four engineers were able to find employees and a few financially strong investors for his project. Les Nouveaux Affineurs has moved into a small factory on the outskirts of Paris . There is still a lack of furniture in their offices, the water for guests comes from the tap and is served in discarded coffee pots. But the mission is clear: "We don't want to stay in a vegan niche, we want to make vegetable cheese accessible to everyone." Akbaraly is hoping for a deal with a supermarket chain.
The best selling point for this is the climate. In the discussion about CO2 emissions, criticism mostly focuses on industrial meat production. The French Ministry of the Environment, on the other hand, does the following: It takes about 11.5 liters of raw milk to produce one kilo of hard cheese, such as Tomme or Comté. One kilogram of cheese contains the equivalent of 12.6 kilograms of CO2. Less milk is needed for soft cheeses such as Camembert; its balance is 6.6 kilograms of CO2. For comparison: a kilogram of conventional beef gobbles up 12.8 kilograms of CO2, pork already has a better balance than most cheeses, poultry anyway.