Vegetarian cheese. Non-vegetarian cheese. What’s the difference? It’s all made from animal milk, right?
Not quite. To turn milk into cheese, an enzyme is needed to curdle the milk into curds and whey. Curds are then turned into cheese, while the liquid part, whey, is a waste product, sometime used as an ingredient in other products, sometimes discarded.
Traditionally this enzyme is sourced from rennet from the stomach of slaughtered new-born calves. Since this requires the death of an animal, cheese made with rennet is not considered vegetarian.
Vegetarian cheeses are manufactured using rennet from either fungal/bacterial sources or genetically modified micro-organisms. On the ingredients list you’ll find it listed as “vegetable rennet”, “non-animal rennet”, “enzyme” or similar. Where the word “rennet” alone is used, the source is usually the calves.
Some Dairyworks cheeses are vegetarian.
Some cheeses, by definition, use animal rennet. These include parmesan and gorgonzola.
Recently there have been more plant-based cheeses available, including Angel Food cheeses. These are vegan and so avoid the ethical issues of animal products. They vary considerably and are improving all the time. These new ones even melt like “real” cheese. Try different ones to find ones you prefer. And keep watch – due to current high demand, more will be arriving on the market all the time.
Check out this fact sheet.