Sunday, June 7, 2015

the rennet truth

I have been asked a few times since becoming a vegetarian the following question, "What is the difference between being vegetarian and vegan?" 

One of the big differences is not eating cheese. 

Now, I love cheese. I really do. So crossing over to full vegan will be A LOT harder than becoming vegetarian, as I was never much of a meat eater. However, what a lot of cheese eating vegetarians need to understand is that your cheese COULD have dead animal product in it.

How is that possible?


There are a few different kinds of rennet. Traditionally, rennet produced from cutting of calf stomachs and extracting the stomach enzymes. Those enzymes are called rennet.

The good news is there are other forms of plant rennets and microbial enzymes that do not require the slaughtering of calves. Which means that a person CAN in fact go to the store and buy cheese that DOES NOT have dead animal in it. 

So, let's start a little cheeseducation. 

I want go to the store and buy Parmesan. I am then horrified to learn that Parmesan is impossible to find without animal rennet. Or is it?

As it is, laws state that cheese is only allowed to be labelled Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan (the widely used French name) if it meets a number of criteria, including being made using calf rennet. This means any parmesan being imported from the European Union has to have the animal rennet to be packaged and be Parmesan under the Protected Designation of Origin. 

The term Parmesan is also misleading. Most cheese afficiados within the European Union do not even consider parmesan-like cheeses made outside of the Parma and Reggio provinces to be parmesan. As such, most parmesan in the US is considered to be "fake" regardless of the taste and replication recipe.

The truth is American companies can get away with producing their own "parmesan" and even if it's not "Parmigiano-Reggiano" (hard grain cheese produced in Parma and Reggio), it is still parmesan to the common consumer. Which allows America to produce this parmesan-like cheese with plant based rennet without violating European Union and/or American Protected Designation of Origin laws.

That being said, there are a few vegetarian friendly parms. 

Whole Foods does have a 365 brand vegetarian rennet parmesan. The packaging states vegetarian on the front and the 365 brand cheeses marked with, "vegetarian" do use plant rennet.

Trader Joe's has a veggie safe parm as stated at the end of this document.

Organic Valley has a parmesan that is also friendly. Although the ingredients list does not specifically state this. Their product description on this website does indicate that they use vegetarian rennet.

I am sure more is available. But that is a good starting off point for happy parms. 

It is important to note here that there are many cheeses that are traditionally imported that have these same "to-be-sold-as" requirements. However, it is possible to find "American made", "vegetarian-rennet" alternative of these products. So, do not despair.

And when in doubt Kosher cheese is a safe cheese.