The majority of cheeses contain an ingredient known as rennet, a naturally occurring enzyme from the stomach of calves and other young animals. When harvested, this enzyme causes milk to separate into solids and liquids.
In order for a cow’s rennet to be eventually added to cheese, the animal must be killed so its stomach can be processed to extract the enzyme.
For many vegetarians – namely, those who turn to a meat-free lifestyle for humanitarian reasons – this stomach-turning chain of events is enough to turn them off cheese altogether.
But don’t go ordering cheese-free pizza just yet.
According to Dairy Australia, the process of harvesting rennet from cows is an old-fashioned procedure that is no longer followed.
“Rennet is a special enzyme or protein that is found in the stomach of cows. The rennet is what causes the milk to coagulate into a curd and centuries ago, they would use the rennet from a cow's stomach to make cheese,” they confirm.
“But now, we use special rennet made in a factory from vegetable materials, so no cows are hurt in the process.”
These vegetable materials are derived from fungi, plants or are genetically engineered (G.E.).
However, knowing which rennet is plant based and which ones are G.E. is a discussion currently occurring in manufacturing circles. Reading the label is your best option in this case.
Still not convinced that every cheese you see on the supermarket shelf is cow rennet-free?
These are just some of the brands that Vegetarian Network Victoria have confirmed are completely vegetarian friendly and are on your supermarket shelves, so if in doubt, stick with these!
Additionally, Coles now claims to offer an animal-rennet-free cheese range too.
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