Why You Should Care About Rennet When Buying Cheese

Mac &  Cheese. Quesadillas. Cheese omelets. These are some of my favorite dishes that make it very difficult to contemplate going vegan. I’m sure many of you reading this share in my love of cheese. (Provided you’re not lactose intolerant or worse.) As a society, we like it so much that to elicit a big cheesy smile for a photo we often shout: “CHEESE!”

What is Rennet?

Remember Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey? She wouldn’t be able to without rennet.

Rennet is a complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach that is often used in the production of cheese. Mammalian stomachs of cows and goats, for example. These enzymes coagulate the milk and separate the solids and liquids. These active enzymes help in the digestion of the cow’s milk and are found in the stomach of young calves. [Pictured right: Yup, calves’ stomachs.]

There are non-animal sources for rennet which make it easier for people like me to continue to eat cheese.

Would you eat veal? What about supporting the production of veal?

Many of my carnism friends, or meat eaters, rationalize that they enjoy eating red meat but they would never eat veal. That is just gross, they say.

Spoiler Alert: If you buy cheeses that are made with animal-rennet you are supporting the veal industry.

Now that you know what is needed to create cheese, the next question becomes: how do cheese makers get the enzyme out of the calf? I think you know the answer.

The modern veal industry has connections with the dairy industry. To produce milk, cows must be lactating, and to be lactating, they must get pregnant (read: artificial insemination) and give birth. After being born the calf is removed after a couple of days, or hours, of suckling. Though veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed, most veal comes from male calves (bull calves) of dairy cattle breeds.

Learn more about how rennet is made.

 

What now? Check the label and do your homework

Artisanal Cheeses
Artisanal Cheeses (Photo credit: LearningLark)

Next time you go grocery shopping and find yourself in the dairy aisle take an extra minute and review the label. Here’s what to look for.

Avoid cheeses that have:

  • protease
  • chymosin
  • rennin
  • pepsin
  • lipase

Sometimes the cheese manufacturers will be forth-coming on their label and say that it contains animal-rennet but more likely you will see a label that reads: contains enzymes. I would advise you to put that cheese down and instead find one that is proudly marketing that it uses vegetarian rennet. And you can be proud too of your choice.

Vegetarian rennet can come from plant sources like thistle or from fungi (the label will say microbial rennet) and sometimes they can be genetically engineered.

Support Local Dairy Farmers

Buy Local! Whole Foods opens in Noe Valley
Buy Local! Whole Foods opens in Noe Valley (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

Now you know what to look for in the supermarket, or maybe the specialty food store now (where hopefully you can also buy locally produced vegetables that are in season), but is it enough?

This is a question I ask myself ever since I became aware of rennet. While I can find some relief in knowing that a calf was not slaughtered to make my cheese (and someone else’s cutlets), I have to ask myself if the cheese manufacturer is purchasing their milk from a mass producing dairy farm that could very well be supporting the veal industry.

 

And then here we are — guilty by association.

Or, maybe not. We’ve made the first step of being aware of what’s involved in the making of our food cheese, now we need to take it to the next level! Yeah, we’re intense.

Yup, it’s time now to support your local dairy farmers. By purchasing cheese products that are produced locally, sustainable and cruelty-free; it’s a vote for what you believe in, or said another way, money the mass-producing veal-supporting dairy producers will not receive. Woot.

Do what I’ve done and mosey on over to your favorite search engine and find what’s near you and get on your favorite social networking site and ask those who know more than you. I’ve found the Arizona Cheese Co. and being that they were local I was able to ask them directly if they use animal-rennet. I got a response, same day!, saying they are proud to report they use local milk from Arizona farmers and only use vegetarian rennet.

Wahoooo!! Anyone up for some nachos?!

Additional Awesome-Cheese-Sauce Resources:

8 thoughts on “Why You Should Care About Rennet When Buying Cheese

  1. Thank you so much for linking my post to this wonderfully informative one you’ve written!!

    It drives me crazy that it’s so difficult, as a consumer, to make ethical choices. For me, it’s bad enough that it took me so long to figure out what rennet really is – but then to have to try to untangle something vague like “enzymes” or (are they vegetarian? are they not?) That’s just obnoxious. Posts like this are SO HELPFUL.

    Thanks again!

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