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Is Cheese Vegetarian?

Updated on March 21, 2013

Is Cheese Vegetarian Friendly?

For many, being a vegetarian is not as simple as not eating meat. It is surprising how many seemingly vegetarian friendly foods contain animal by-products. Foods such as yogurt and sour cream, for instance, sometimes contain gelatin.

Vegetarians who wish not to consume animal by-products that are the result of animals being slaughtered must be diligent about understanding the ingredients in every food they consume.

So, are these types of animal by-products used in cheese? That depends.

Source

What is Rennet?

Ultimately, whether or not cheese is vegetarian depends on the type of rennet that is used during production. Rennet is an enzyme used to coagulate milk, resulting in curd formation. Rennet may be derived from animal, vegetable, or microbial sources.

Animal Rennet

Animal derived rennet comes from the stomach lining of very young dairy animals. Cow milk cheeses, for instance, typically use rennet from calves. Young animals utilize the enzyme to help digest their mother’s milk. In general, older animals no longer have the enzyme.

Vegetable Rennet

Cheese manufacturers have alternatives to using animal rennet. One option is to use rennet derived from vegetables or plants. Plant-based rennet may come from various sources, including wild thistles, safflower, fig leaves, fig bark, nettles, mallow, and melon. Manufacturers extract enzymes from the plants and modify them so they are similar to animal rennet.

Microbial Rennet

Another alternative to animal rennet is microbial rennet. Microbial rennet is derived from fungi and yeast. Enzymes are produced by fungi that, after a purification process, may be used to coagulate milk.

Which Cheese Brands Are Vegetarian

Fortunately, there are many excellent cheeses made without animal rennet. Unfortunately, most cheese manufacturers and distributors do not indicate on the labels whether they use animal or vegetable enzymes. Several companies, however, provide this information on their websites. Check the websites of cheese companies to find out if your favorite cheese is vegetarian friendly. If you are not able to locate the information on their website, you may wish to call the company. Many companies are willing to respond to email and telephone inquiries on the subject. A list of brands of cheeses that have been confirmed (via the companies' websites) to be vegetarian friendly are provided in the table below.

Vegetarian Cheeses

Brand
Varieties/Exceptions
Comments
Applegate
All except Swiss and Havarti
 
Bass Lake Cheese Factory
All varieties
 
BelGioioso
CreamyGorg® Crescenza-Stracchino Fresh Mozzarella: Water-packed, Burrata, Curd and Thermoform Italico™ Mascarpone, Tiramisú Mascarpone and Crema di Mascarpone™ Ricotta con Latte® Ricotta Salata Vegetarian Parmesan
This is one of the few companies I have found that offer a vegetarian parmesan cheese.
Cabot
All except processed American cheese slices
 
Horizon Organic
All varieties
 
Land O’Lakes
Natural cheeses
The processed cheeses may be made with either animal or microbial rennet.
Organic Valley
Parmesan, cottage cheese, ricotta
Another vegetarian parmesan!
Rumiano
All varieties
 
Sargento
From the Sargento website: “Most Sargento shredded and sliced cheeses and all of our refrigerated natural cheese snacks are made with non-animal rennets. The only Sargento natural cheeses that may contain animal enzymes are those that contain Romano, Asiago, or Jarlsberg cheeses. Those include: Artisan Blends Shredded Parmesan & Romano Cheese, Shredded 6 Cheese Italian Cheese, Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese, and Deli Style Sliced Jarlsberg Cheese. The cheese dip in our non-refrigerated MooTown Snacks, Cheese Dip & Cracker Sticks, Cheese Dip & Pretzel Sticks, and Cheese Dip & Crackers, is made with beef rennet.”
 
Tillamook
All varieties except Vintage White Medium Cheddar and Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar
 

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    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

      Very interesting, I wasn´t aware of the different enzymes used in making cheese. This hub should be quite useful for strict vegetarians or vegans. I fortunately eat guilt-free almost all cheeses, regardless of the enzyme they use, and I am very glad there are so many options for dieters who are much stricter than I because I ´couldn´t imagine a life without cheese!!! :D

    • Audrey Baker profile image
      Author

      Audrey Baker 4 years ago from Arizona

      I agree, I love cheese. There are even varieties available for vegans, which are made with plant foods (such as soy).

    • markmic36 profile image

      Mick Smith 4 years ago from Warwick, RI

      Yeah I tried veggie shreds that was really good. The mozzerella one, the chedder cheese one not so good. I heard Daiya is also delicious but I havent tried it yet. Love your articles, I have recently delved into the vegan and vegetarian world for health reasons and I am enjoying it very much. Keep up the good work.

    • Audrey Baker profile image
      Author

      Audrey Baker 4 years ago from Arizona

      I've tried a couple brands of the soy versions, but don't have a favorite. Like you pointed out, they aren't all equal! I'm happy to hear you are enjoying it. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

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