What is Vegetarian Cheese?

wiseGEEK Writer

It would seem that the average ovo-lacto vegetarian wouldn’t have any trouble finding vegetarian cheese, because cheese is made with milk and there’s plenty of it around. Actually, the matter is a little more complex, because a number of cheeses contain rennet that is produced from meat byproducts. To be true vegetarian cheese, the cheese must not contain an animal-produced form of rennet, which isn’t always as easy to find, even though demand for it has increased its supply.

Dairy-free cheeses are usually made with tofu.
Dairy-free cheeses are usually made with tofu.

Given the demand, there has actually been a great deal of inquiry on how to produce quality vegetarian cheese that lacks animal rennet. With some soft cheeses like cream cheese this may not be a concern, but hard cheeses will almost always possess this ingredient. It turns out there are vegetarian rennets that can be produced that are cultured on products like mushrooms. These are becoming a fine alternative and have greatly expanded the number of available cheeses.

Vegetarians who prefer milk-based cheeses should read labels carefully to avoid non-vegetarian rennet.
Vegetarians who prefer milk-based cheeses should read labels carefully to avoid non-vegetarian rennet.

To look for vegetarian cheese, people can simply start reading labels. Some packaging will boldly advertise on the front its rennetless status. Others boast that they are vegetarian, and on the list of ingredients is listed “vegetarian rennet.” People might find one or two cheeses at standard grocery stores. They’ll often have more selection shopping at specialty stores, particularly if these stores tend to cater to vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyles.

It should be noted that lots of vegetarians just go ahead and choose any cheese they like, not minding a minimal addition of meat byproducts. Those who are firmer on this are certainly getting more choices as cheese manufacturers have identified vegetarians as a growing market. It’s also worth noticing that vegetarian rennet cheese tend to be as high quality and varied as those cheeses with standard rennet.

By vegetarian cheese, some people mean cheese without any form of animal product. There are a few of these on the market too, and they’re normally made from milk substitutes like tofu. "Tofu cheese" is popular, and these products may even have similar melting properties to real cheese. It is important to note that tofu cheese is not always vegan or vegetarian either.

Milk byproducts like casein or whey are sometimes included in soybean cheese. Alternately, some of these cheeses still have non-vegetarian rennet. As with milk-based vegetarian cheese, those wanting a tofu-based cheese really need to read labels. Many cheese companies will label their cheeses as vegan if they are completely free of animal products. With familiarity of some of the common milk-based byproducts, any vegan interested in a cheese alternative can simply read the list of ingredients to verify that no animal products were used to make the cheese.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?