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:

Why I No Longer Eat Meat And Why You Should Stop Eating Animals [Graphic]

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Piglets are so adorable. (Photo credit: steveevets)

Two years. I have been a vegetarian for two years. During this time I have been ridiculed by friends and family for not eating meat — glorious, delicious meat— as they like to say. It’s mostly in “good fun,” but I know what they do not: the psychology of eating animals.

If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls

I used to not care (or say that I didn’t care) about how my food was produced because, like many of you, I loved the taste of meat in my tacos and my hamburgers and so on. Then, as many of you know, I saw the documentary Food, Inc. And I saw how the food industry treats, rather maltreats, the animals before they appear on our plates. And just as Food, Inc’s tagline stated: “You will never look at dinner the same away again.”

Carnism — The Opposite Of Vegetarianism or Veganism

Carnism is the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat (certain) animals.

Dr. Melanie Joy on carnism:

Most of us are unaware that we employ sophisticated psychological defense mechanisms whenever we eat animals. The closest most of us come to recognizing these defenses is the sense of relief, lightness, or connection to our food we feel if and when we stop eating animals. The “psychology of eating animals” is outside our awareness because the belief system that shapes this psychology is invisible. This is the belief system that I call carnism.

Dr. Joy continues to explain in her “Dis-Ease Of The Heart, The Psychology of Eating Animals” — a guest blogpost for Forks Over Knives— how we rationalize the eating of animals.

Deny, Deny, Deny

See no evil and there will be no evil.

If we don’t think about how our food is produced, and what that means, than there is no problem. Right?

Of course not.

Dr. Joy: “The most obvious and direct victims are the ten billion (land) animals who live and die in abject misery every year in the US alone, but carnism also victimizes the environment, exploited slaughterhouse workers, and those of us who eat animals and pay the price with our bodies and our hearts and minds.”

I usually hear this rationalization when I share a meal with meat-eaters and they’ve learned that I’m a vegetarian: “Oh, I can’t watch those documentaries because then I won’t eat meat” or “I just love the taste of meat too much to give it up.”

Justify Until You Feel Right

USDA inspection of pig.
USDA inspection of pig. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you believe that you need to eat meat to meet your need for protein? Do you believe that eating meat is natural?

Many people do. I have used the justification and it’s been used against me as well as to persuade me to return to eating meat.

We learn to think of farmed animals as objects, as pieces of live “stock;” we learn to think of them as abstractions, as lacking in any individuality or personality of their own and instead simply as abstract members of a group, “a pig is a pig and all pigs are the same;” and we learn to place them in rigid categories in our minds so we can harbor very different attitudes toward different species (dogs are friends and pigs are food).

Change The Way You Think About Meat

Dr. Joy experienced a pivotal moment in her life and from that moment decided to no longer eat meat. She then dedicated her life to study the psychology used by rationale people who love animals (like cats and dogs) but could then eat animals (like cows and pigs). Here is her presentation of Carnism. I watched the video, all of it, and found the material very thought-provoking and I implore you to watch it too.

Boiling It Down: Why Eating Animals Makes My Blood Boil

I realize that it is very likely you did not watch as the video is an hour long; I understand. However, if nothing else, fast-forward to 27:50 and see what I see now when I watch people eat their bacon cheeseburgers. It’s only 4 minutes long. Yes, it is distressing.

Did you still not watch it? Pity. Because now I have to tell you.

Why I’ll Never Eat Pork or Bacon Again

Imagine a pig in a compact pen, so compact that he cannot turn and from the distress will often bite the tails off the pig in front of him. Instead or providing a larger pen for the pigs, it is common practice for slaughterhouse workers to rip the tails off piglets. In the same moment, they will castrate male piglets with a scalpel and rip out their testes. No anesthetic. Just cut and rip.

The piglet screams in pain. If it’s a botch job and the worker has done more damage (ripping out their intestines for example) they will grab the piglet from the hind legs and swing the piglet on to the ground to concuss him. The piglets often convulse from the head trauma and bleeds out — but this could take hours. If the pig survives castration and makes it to the end of the line to become a side-order of ribs, he will meet his end a couple of ways:

  • Electric shock to the head to make him stun him before he’s hung on to meat hooks. It can takes several shocks with a bolt gun to the head and still he is not dead, just not conscious.
  • Placed on a conveyor belt and transported in to a room where he is electrocuted.
  • Hanging from meat hooks, his neck sliced so he bleeds out. Sometimes their necks are not sliced thoroughly.
  • Hanging from meat hooks, neck sliced but sometimes still alive, he is submerged in to boiling hot water where he’s drowned all the while flailing and screaming to save his life.


Pull back the curtain for yourself and read Vegan Outreach‘s If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls. Once you’ve seen these images you cannot forget them.

I can’t.

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