Is Cheese Vegetarian? (Solved!)

Vegetarians don’t eat food that involves animal slaughter. So, if cheese contains rennet which comes from animals, is cheese vegetarian?

Technically, the cheese-making process doesn’t involve animal slaughter. Therefore, many vegetarians include it in their diets.

However, some cheeses are made with animal byproducts to enhance the taste and texture. So, how do you determine which cheese is suitable?

This article will get into all of the details about which types of cheese vegetarians can eat.

is cheese vegetarian

Can Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

To answer the question of if cheese is vegetarian, let’s first look at the four different vegetarian groups.

  • Pescatarians eat seafood but not red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs but not meat
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not meat and dairy
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but not meat and eggs

Many people believe that cheese is simply made from milk. However, many vegetarians who learned more about the production process have sworn off cheese. Here’s why:

In the cheese-making process, the producers use rennet.

This mix of enzymes makes the final product tastier and improves its texture. Chymosin, pepsin, and lipase are combined to curdle the milk, thickening the product.

The problem is in the way they extract those enzymes. Invariably, they’re taken from the stomachs of animals like cows, pigs, sheep, and goats.

The younger the calf, the better the enzymes, meaning these animals are often slaughtered as newborns.

Naturally, this fact doesn’t sit well with most vegetarians.

On the other hand, vegans don’t eat dairy, meat, or eggs.

Fortunately, not all cheese-makers use animal-based rennet, and certain types of cheese can be considered vegetarian and excluded from the red-flag list.

A plant-based alternative is made from artichokes, bacteria, yeast, and even mold (if mold is best avoided).

If you don’t want to eat cheese with any traces of animal cruelty, look for those made with rennet unassociated with the slaughter of young animals.

How Can You Tell If Rennet Is Vegetarian?

Most traditional European cheeses are made with animal rennet.

If you’re from the UK, you’ll be relieved to know that the cheese with animal rennet is always labeled – so there won’t be unpleasant surprises. Look for the symbol “V” on the product label.

There are no direct rules in the US, however, to specify whether products are made of animal or plant-based rennet.

Therefore, the only way to learn if rennet is vegetarian is to contact the manufacturers or look for vegetarian-friendly cheeses.

The best way to determine if your cheese contains animal rennet is to simply check the labels. Look for descriptions outlined in the table below.

LabelMeaning
Non-animal EnzymesThe product is vegetarian-friendly.
Vegetable RennetThe rennet used is plant-based. Plant-based rennet is made of artichokes, thistle, and fig leaves.
Microbial RennetThis is made of good bacteria and fungi, sometimes even mold. However, keep in mind that these types of cheese might turn bitter over time.
Fermentation-produced ChymosinThis rennet comes from genetically modified microbes.
Cruelty-free
Vegetarian
Vegan
Animal-friendly
The product is vegetarian or vegan, as animals were not harmed in the production.
OU
Tablet K
Stark K
OK
Jewish religious rules don’t permit milk and meat to be consumed at the same time. Therefore, Kosher cheese won’t contain animal-based rennet.
Yogurt
Cream Cheese
Paneer
These dairy products don’t contain rennet.

Vegetarian-Friendly Cheeses That Don’t Typically Use Animal Rennet

  • Paneer – This is a traditional Indian cheese made with milk, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
  • Cottage cheese – This is a protein-rich cheese with loose curds.
  • Ricotta – Not only does it contain a lot of whey protein, but around 25% of RDA per portion.
  • Sargento – Unless the Sargento cheese includes Romano, Asiago, or Jarlsberg cheeses, it’s completely vegetarian-friendly.
  • Cream cheese – This type of cheese belongs to the soft cheese family, so it doesn’t contain rennet.
  • Brie – The use of rennet in Brie can vary based on the producer. Organic Brie is often made with plant-based rennet but check with the producer before consumption.

Even some hard cheeses like cheddar are made without animal rennet.

Instead, some producers often opt for plant-based rennet because it’s more affordable, making their products cheaper and vegetarian-friendly.

More specifically, mass-produced cheddars are usually vegetarian.

Some brands that produce vegetarian cheeses are:

  • Cabot
  • Laughing Cow
  • Horizon
  • Applegoat
  • Trader Joe’s
  • 365 Whole Foods
  • Organic Valley

Note: If the cheese is labeled “Vegan,” it doesn’t include animal rennet or milk. It’s usually made with nuts, coconut milk, soy, and flour. Therefore, it’s safe to eat for both vegetarians and vegans.

Keep in mind that parmesan is almost always made with animal rennet. However, various cheeses use a substitute for animal rennet – like a vegetarian parmesan from BelGioioso.

What Cheeses Aren’t Vegetarian?

In terms of cheeses to avoid, be aware that most hard cheeses need rennet to maintain their texture.

Although some companies might use animal-friendly rennet, most don’t.

European and European-style producers use animal rennet when making hard cheeses. For example, traditional Mozzarella is usually made with animal rennet.

However, modern companies often substitute the animal rennet with a plant-based option.

Here are some examples of non-vegetarian cheeses:

Parmesan

Parmesan cheese requires rennet to keep its texture. In fact, EU law states that to call the cheese “Parmigiano Reggiano,” it has to be made traditionally, you guessed it – with animal rennet.

Feta Cheese

Many producers use microbial rennet, but many still use animal rennet. Therefore, remain cautious when buying these products.

Blue Cheese

Some blue cheeses are vegetarian-friendly, but when it comes to Gorgonzola, for example, most are still made with animal rennet.

Cheddar

This type of cheese often contains animal rennet as it belongs to the hard cheese family, but substitutes are available.

Goat Cheese

Whether the goat cheese is vegetarian depends on the variety. For example, French goat cheese often contains animal rennet, while British goat cheese doesn’t.

American Cheese

This type of cheese is often called “fake” for valid reasons. However, it can often contain cheddar, milk, and other dairy products. As stated above, cheddar often contains animal rennet. Proceed with caution with this variety.

In Summary

The debate over whether or not cheese is vegetarian can often get confusing. But now that you know all the facts, you’ll be much better prepared when you visit a supermarket or local store.

Some cheeses have definitely earned the approval of the vegetarian community, while others are still in the questionable or even a “red-flag” area.

However, as long as you check the labels and avoid the infamous hard cheeses associated with animal rennet, you should be fine. There are still many varieties of cheese that you can enjoy.

Looking to learn more about a specific type of cheese and whether or not it’s vegetarian? I’ve heavily researched this topic, so click on a specific type of cheese below for an in-depth article by me.