A lot of people love cheese and as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, I can’t say as I blame them. Cheese is awesome. But, even for an ovo-lacto or lacto vegetarian, cheese can be highly problematic. You see, traditionally, cheese is made with a by-product of animal slaughter called rennet. Rennet is the lining of an animal’s stomach. This lining contains enzymes that are used in the making of cheeses. Now you see where the problem comes in—the rennet is an animal product that requires the slaughter of the animal to obtain it, something that isn’t permissible for vegetarians.
I can hear you thinking, I know what you’re going to ask next. But I see vegetarians eat cheese all the time, so it can’t be that much of a big deal, can it? Yes, actually, it can. You see, here in the US, the FDA only requires that cheese manufacturers say they use “enzymes” in their cheese. They are not required to list the origin of those enzymes. So a vegetarian can be happily eating their favorite cheese brand without realizing they’re actually eating cheese that contains animal rennet. Some manufacturers are quite clear that they don’t use animal rennets (with the occasional exception, see below). Others, you’ll have to either do some research or hope and pray that your favorite cheese doesn’t have rennet in it.
So what cheese brands are “safe” for vegetarians? Check the list below for cheese brands that are “safe” for vegetarians. Any exceptions will be listed.
- Applegate Farms – Havarti & Swiss are not vegetarian.
- Crystal Farms – Natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Marble, Jack, are vegetarian.
- Horizon Organic
- Land O’ Lakes – Asiago, Parmesan, Romano, and Processed Cheeses are not vegetarian
- Laughing Cow/Mini Babybel
- Sargento – Romano, Asiago, Jarlsberg cheeses or blends containing these cheeses are not vegetarian. Also MooTown Snacks, Cheese Dip & Cracker Sticks, Cheese Dip & Pretzel Sticks, and Cheese Dip & Crackers are not vegetarian.
There is a much more extensive list of cheeses that are OK for vegetarians to consume here. (Note that KRAFT is not listed on this list.)
If you are in doubt about your favorite brand of cheese, check the company’s website. Many times there will be an FAQ that will tell if their cheeses are permissible for vegetarian consumption. I know for certain that Laughing Cow/Babybel/Mini Babybel and Sargento both have it in their FAQs about what can and can’t be consumed by vegetarians.
Of course, there are always the brands that can be consumed by vegetarians/vegans because they are completely dairy/animal free…
- Daiya – all cheeses are dairy free/vegan
- Go Veggie – some cheeses are dairy free/vegan, check the label
- Follow Your Heart – all cheeses are dairy free/vegan
So there you have it – why rennet is such a big deal and how you can avoid it. Happy vegetarian cheese eating!