What are vegetarian cheeses?

One of the questions we often get asked by customers, is, “aren’t all cows vegetarian?”

People often come in and see that we have Vegetarian cheeses in our display, some assume it’s to do with the diet of the animal and thus the question above.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, cows are considered vegetarians (herbivores). Sure, they have been observed to eat insects like grasshoppers, flies and crickets; however we think it’s more of an accident than a philosophical statement.

Goats on the other hand are often referred to as browsing animals rather than grazing animals. They have the notorious tendency to chew on just about anything, however when it comes to eating, similar to cows they usually stick to being herbivorous when healthy and grass is available. Yes we have sheep’s cheese as well! And personally, all the sheep I’ve talked to are vegetarian..   

Seriously though, when we refer to vegetarian cheese’s it’s all about the kind of rennet used in the making of the cheese.

Rennet is a set of enzymes most commonly found in the stomach of some herding animals (cows, sheep, goat, giraffes and even kangaroos), also referred to as “Ruminants.” The rennet is taken from the stomach lining of the fore gut (Rumen) of the animal. Rennet is used as a coagulant to separate the curds from the whey!   

It’s actually how the legend of cheese first began! The idea being that some milk was stored in the stomach of a sheep, leading to the rennet in the stomach causing the milk to split into curds and whey and thus the discovery of cheese.

Rennet is a set of enzymes most commonly found in the stomach of some herding animals (cows, sheep, goat, giraffes and even kangaroos), also referred to as “Ruminants.”

But fear not, Vegetarians!! There are alternatives to animal based rennet out there with a couple different options, which you can read more about below. But before we get to the specifics, here are some vegetarian cheese options you can find in our cabinet.

HaVe (Harvey) is a cheese fromagerie down south in you guessed it, Harvey! They use vegetarian rennet sourced from microbial sources to dish up some beautiful camemberts, triple cream bries and even a triple cream blue cheese as well!

Aside from our softer options from HaVe, we also stock vegetarian washed rinds, fettas, cheddars, swiss, wensleydale, and even blue cheeses!

Our most popular vegetarian options are:

·         Udder Delights Brie

·         Goat’s Brie

·         HaVe Ash Blonde

·         Persian Fetta

·         Tarago Jensen Red

·         Stokes Point Smoked Cheddar

·         BellaVitano Balsamic Cheddar

·         St Agur

On to our vegetarian friendly rennet sources!

1.       Microbial Sources, some moulds are able to produce proteolytic enzymes (enzymes found in your stomach that breakdown proteins into amino acids) and when the moulds are concentrated and purified of nasty by products (also produced by the mould) they are suitable for use in cheese making!


2.       Vegetal Sources, are also a known alternative to animal based rennets including the extract of fig juice, thistles, nettles, dried caper leaves, ground up ivy and mallow. All these vegetal options have coagulating properties suitable for the separation of curds from whey.

Vegetal and microbial sources are suitable for halal, vegetarian and kosher cheese. Unfortunately they aren’t suitable for all kinds of cheese making methods especially when you take into account ageing cheeses, fortunately, here enters FPC.

3.       FPC, Fermentation Produced Chymosin. Genetic engineering makes it possible to isolate the genes responsible for rennet production in ruminants, to remove said genes and to introduce them into yeast, fungi and bacteria. Chymosin (the protease in rennet responsible for precipitation and curd forming) is produced during the fermentation of these organisms, it is identical to the chymosin produced by the animals and is actually produced more efficiently and is purer (given that it doesn’t contain all the extra proteins that animal rennet contains). The yeast/bacteria/fungi is killed after fermentation, and the chymosin isolated from the by-products and mould. This is done so that the chymosin is considered a GMO (Genetically Mutated Organism) free product. This method of chymosin production is predominantly done using aspergillus niger (which is the same mould that grows in underground wine cellars, also called the black mould). Cheese’s made using FPC are halal, kosher and suitable for vegetarians.

Non Rennet Coagulation and Vegan Cheese, some acids like citric acid (lemon juice) and acetic acid (vinegar) are added to milk to cause coagulation in the production of some soft cheeses, such as paneer, cream cheese or ricotta. Vegan cheese (made from soy, almond, cashew, wheat milk etc.) is usually coagulated this way.

There you go! If you are a vegetarian, you are all good to enjoy lovely cheeses with a clean conscience.


By Jordan Kuchel