A Beginner’s guide to vegetarian cheese

Happy New Year from us! It’s been far too long since we posted but I can assure you, one of our new year resolutions is to get back on the blogging bandwagon. So without further ado, given we’re far too late to regale festive recipes and feasts, I thought I’d start a New Year blog post on one area close to my heart: cheese. As a cheese hound and a vegetarian, I know first-hand that this is a viper in the nest you have to watch out for.

For the newbies out there, not all cheese is vegetarian. For the old timers, you feel my pain. In laymen’s terms, to make cheese it requires a coagulation process to curdle the whey and curds (I’m not an expert cheese maker just eater). This takes two broad forms: microbial products (fungus/bacteria) or animal rennet. The former is veggie the latter is enemy.

Now, most supermarkets have really come up to speed in labelling which of their cheeses are vegetarian. But I don’t think there is enough variety of cheeses which are accessible to the veggie market; we often get stuck with the standard old cheddar, mozzarella and other soft cheeses. These are all wonderful, but I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying we could do with more options. Anyway, that’s another discussion.

Top tip for veggie cheese

Our top tip to all readers is to examine the label and ingredients- often, if the cheese is imported it won’t have the ‘V’ sign on it, which you should look for in the first instance, but will sometimes specify if the rennet used is vegetarian/microbial products used. Then you’re safe. If it doesn’t state either of the above, put the cheese down and walk away. Otherwise, you will more than likely be consuming animal rennet.

It’s fairly easy to deal with this in a supermarket, but when you’re out at a restaurant or café, it can become tricky. Always ask and err on the side of caution; if you’ve wanted to try a certain place for a while and you know you’d like to pay a visit, get in touch beforehand if you don’t want the usual scene which ensues when you ask about vegetarian cheese.

However, despite our pro-activeness there will always be some cheese which us veggies can never eat. These are typically hard cheeses which use animal rennet in their production. We can call these the enemy cheese.

Typical enemy cheeses

Parmigiana reggino or parmesan- this deserves a special mention as cheese enemy number one.  It’s a traditional Italian hard cheese which will always use calf or animal rennet in its production (to be classified as parmigiana reggino, it has to be produced this way)

Gruyere

Camembert

Comte

Roquefort

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Some cheese producers are now increasingly using vegetarian rennet, and even making alternatives to strictly non-vegetarian cheese. I’ll come back to these a bit later. You can be sure that if you ask about or pick up the following cheese, there should be a reasonable chance that it could (or should!) be vegetarian- the friendly cheese.

Typical friendly cheese

Cheddar

Mozzarella

Philadelphia/soft cheese spreads

Wendsleydale

Red Leicester

Goat’s cheese

Feta

These obviously vary by product and producer, so always ask. Of course, you also have the inbetweener cheeses which, although they can be produced for veggies, often aren’t. That cheeses me off more than anything.

I mentioned earlier cheese that used to be strictly off limits for vegetarians, but which cheese producers have crafted for veggies. One of the major news story on this is the production of veggie parmesan (eggless veggie parmesan to be precise) by Twineham Grange which you can check out here. I have yet to try it, but it’s another thing on my to-do list for 2014!

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