I feel like a fraud. Although I am not Vegetarian (I eat fish but no other meat), I have often written about some of our meals that are strictly plant-based. Turns out I am a liar. A BIG ONE and I am devastated by it.
Many of my “self proclaimed Vegetarian” recipes call for cheese and I just learned that most cheese is NOT Vegetarian. Did you know that? I am not even sure how I discovered this little known fact but once I found it I started doing a lot of research. LOTS and LOTS of research because I just can’t believe it.
There is an item in cheese called “rennet.” Rennet is essentially the inner lining of a calf’s stomach. I am just disgusted. I am even more surprised that this is relatively an unknown fact. With all the research I have done about following a Vegetarian and Vegan diet, I have never some across this.
Upon hearing about this, Chad and I jumped in our car and headed to Whole Foods where they basically have cheese mongers right there in the store. Our local cheese monger explained to us a little more about rennet and we learned that the FDA does not require that the source of the rennet be disclosed on the label. If a label simply states “rennet” in the ingredients list, it is probably safe to assume the cheese is NOT Vegetarian. Also, many times you may also see “enzymes” listed without any sign of rennet. This can also probably be assumed the cheese is not Vegetarian-friendly.
Many cheese manufacturers have begun to eliminate calf rennet which is good to know, but unfortunately, not everyone has. It is very important to check the labels to make sure the rennet is not derived from animals. Usually, if a company does use a plant-based rennet, they are usually happy to display it proudly on the label.
Rennet seems to appear mostly in the more flavorful aged cheeses. Most Parmesan cheese is NOT Vegetarian. It is also widely reported that both Grand Padano and Gorgonzola are also never Vegetarian-friendly.
We were happy to find the labels very clear at Whole Foods. And we were thrilled to have someone in the cheese department who was so knowledgeable. We made a few stops at some other stores on the way home and weren’t so lucky. Most other stores do not employ cheese mongers or even train their staff very well. Some employees were just as shocked as we were. It is just better to educate yourself and read labels.
Also it is good to note that rennet is used in producing cheese. Other dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream are rennet-free. However, it should be also noted that some goods, such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese are also not Vegetarian. The enzymes used in the cheese powder are derived from animals. Who knew?
Again, what is the big deal since we ourselves are not 100% Vegetarian? The fact that we do avoid chicken, beef, pork and other animals. The fact that the process of how the rennet is taken from young calves and processed is disgusting. I’ll let you read about that one on your own.
So tell me, are you as surprised as I am?