Cheese and the vegetarian

May 20, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET

Being a vegetarian means paying more attention to what goes into your mouth. One of the most interesting foods that many vegetarians don’t realise contains meat or animal-based products is cheese.

Variety of cheeses

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.

Vegetarian rennet

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.

Where to buy

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!

  • Devondale (Australian Mild, Australian Colby, Australian Tasty, Australian Light'N Tasty)
  • Aussie Gold Fetta
  • Mainland Vegetarian Cheese
  • True Organic: Organic Cheddar, Organic Gouda, Organic Edam, Organic Pecorino,
  • Organic Mozzarella, Organic Brie
  • Woolworths Brand (Colby, Mild, Tasty, Vintage Chedder)
  • Woolworths Select Light Tasty Slices

Additionally, Coles now claims to offer an animal-rennet-free cheese range too.

More Healthy Eating

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The benefits of organic produce: Does it really make a difference?
Heart healthy meals

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