Believe it or not, selecting that mouth-watering, meatless macaroni and cheese dish on the menu doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve chosen a vegetarian option. It might feel like a no-brainer, but the concept of vegetarianism has evolved to reflect much more than just abstaining from meat. Many stricter vegetarians also avoid by-products. With this additional foresight, picking and choosing the dishes that align with your lifestyle might require a bit more research. Because of this, answering the question, “Is cheese vegetarian?” is more complex than you might think.
We’re going to make things a little easier by answering all of your most common vegetarian cheese questions.
Why are Some Cheeses Not Vegetarian?
The biggest component that makes a cheese non-vegetarian is an ingredient called rennet. Traditional rennet is a set of enzymes usually produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals, such as sheep. Because this technically falls into the animal by-product category, some of our furry-loving friends might not feel as comfortable eating those cheeses.
What Kinds of Cheese are Vegetarian?
Younger, soft cheeses like mozzarella, cottage cheese, cream cheese, ricotta, goat, and provolone often are not made with rennet. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so be sure to read your labels carefully!. While it might feel laborious to have to hunt for cheeses that don’t contain animal rennet, some brands make it easy by clearly articulating their use of other types of rennet in their cheese. For example, Cello only uses microbial rennet. Head here to find Cello cheese in your area.
Are Cream Cheese and Cottage Cheese Vegetarian?
As we mentioned above, soft cheeses that do not require coagulation do not use rennet at all. Cottage cheese in particular is a fresh cheese that consists of loose curds, meaning you typically won’t have to worry at all about whether or not it’s vegetarian. Plus, curds are a great source of protein for those who are looking to supplement their protein intake without meat. The same goes for cream cheese (minus the curds element). Since it’s such a soft cheese, rennet is not needed in the pasteurizing process.
Is Parmesan Cheese Vegetarian?
Technically speaking, traditional Parmesan cheese (also known as Parmigiano-Reggiano) is made in a specific region in Italy and is never going to be vegetarian, as it always uses animal rennet during the cheese-making process. However, there are hundreds of variations of domestic Parmesan that you see in stores today made with vegetarians in mind, like ours.
Are Kosher Cheeses Ever Vegetarian?
Kosher cheese will always be vegetarian! Due to the Jewish religious ruling that milk and meat products cannot be consumed together, certified kosher cheese will never contain animal rennet. The next time you are at the grocery store and in search of vegetarian-friendly cheese in a pinch, a good go-to is kosher cheese. These are usually indicated by a K or OU symbol and are available at most grocery stores.
How Can you Tell if a Cheese is Vegetarian?
It might not be immediately obvious that any given cheese is vegetarian, especially since, side by side, they can all look identical. However, finding vegetarian cheese is not as difficult as it seems — it just takes a little more research. A good rule of thumb is to simply look at the ingredients on label in a cheese packet. Cheeses with animal rennet will almost always say something on the ingredient list: “rennet,” “animal enzymes,” or simply “enzymes.” Many cheese brands that use microbial rennet will say as much, but you can always defer to their FAQ page or other website resource to verify.
For those who love eating cheese but are living a vegetarian lifestyle, all hope is not lost! You have plenty of choices. And if you are cooking with cheese or prepping a cheese platter for friends and family who are vegetarian, all you really need to do is read the labels (or explore our cheeses knowing they are safe for your vegetarian loved ones). And if you want to go a step further and offer options for friends and family on a vegan diet (no animal products at all, including milk), Vevan plant-based cheeses are our vegan cheese of choice.
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