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Is Kosher Cheese also Vegetarian (i.e. without animal rennet?)

If a cheese is listed as being Kosher, (for example on the igourmet.com website there is a whole section on kosher cheese), does that imply that any rennet in that cheese would have to be vegetable as opposed to animal derived? I'm a vegetarian, so must confess that I'm wondering this because it is is usually difficult to tell what kind of rennet is being used in cheeses, since it is most often simply listed as only "rennet." I've read that most rennets used in cheeses today are not animal derived, but I figure that if something can't be both labelled Kosher and contain animal derived rennet then my safest bet would be to seek out Kosher cheese. Thanks in advance for your help!

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  1. Please someone with more extensive knowledge, correct me if I am wrong, but here is my best interpretation

    Kosher cheese is not necessarily vegetarian, since the rennet may have come from kosher animals.

    There are kosher cheeses that are labeled "pareve," with "pareve' meaning neither mear nor dairy (neutral). You can usually look on the package to see if a product is pareve. Some items are listed pareve, and others have a "P" listed next to the kashrut stamp, commonly a "K", a K in a circle, an "O" encapsulating a "U" (orthodox union), or a K with a Star. Depending on how observant someone is of kashrut, one would eat all or some of the foods with those desginations.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MaspethMaven

      There's no way that any kosher cheese would be marked "pareve," unless it was soy based, with no dairy ingredients whatsoever.

      1. re: FlavoursGal

        Good point. I suppose it depends more on your definition of Cheese. Soy based counts in my book.

    2. Laura D.,
      I am not a food chemist, but I do keep a kosher kitchen, and we only buy cheeses with a hecksher. It is my understanding that kosher cheese makers may use a vegetable or kosher-animal-derived rennet, and that the rennet introduction is performed by a rabbi. My rabbi explained to me that any animal derived rennet that might be used is so chemically altered that it no longer chemically resembles any cow: it is not considered a meat product, which of course could not be added to milk.
      That said, most kosher cheeses are of poor quality in terms of flavor and texture. Your best kosher bets, in my humble opinion, are Cabot's extra sharp Vermont Cheddar, the Sugar River cheeses out of Wisconsin (CRC hecksher), and some cheeses imported from Israel-feta, etc.
      I think you probably will be happier buying cheeses that are marked as having vegetarian rennet.
      Good luck, p.j.

      1. Thank you for both of your posts! While I was hoping that perhaps I'd found the magic loophole in the system, that would help me determine what is and isn't "okay" for me to eat, alas it didn't work out as planned. I think I will just stick to rennetless cheeses, or cheeses that are marked specifically as containing vegetable derived rennet, (though unfortunately so few are labelled this specifically), since it sounds like Kosher Cheeses are both possible harbingers of animal derived rennet, as well as none-too-tasty. Thanks again!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Laura D.

          It's funny for me that this question came up now. I am also a vegetarian. A few days ago I spoke with a Rabbi about this issue. The kosher cheeses that have an OU, OK, Kof K etc. or are cholov yisroel, if they use rennet at all, it is always vegetarian. They do not believe that the rennet or gelatin that is animal derived (and listed as kosher rennet or gelatin in many cheeses or yogurts under K supervision) is kosher even after it goes through so many chemical changes. As long as you purchase the above mentioned cheeses you will safely be staying within your vegetarian guidelines, and find many wonderful cheeses available to suite your needs and taste.

          1. re: beepbeep123

            Wow...that is hugely helpful. I'll make note of what you said and will look for the OU, OK, or Kof K on cheese labels from now on. Of course, there's always the unfortunate issue that many great cheeses are repackaged by the markets that sell them and thus don't contain the commercial demarcation reflecting whether they are kosher, etc. But, this knowledge will still enable me to have access to lots of cheeses without having to wonder what exactly it is I am eating. Thanks again!

        2. Look at the Joseph Farms Kosher Cheeses, they are tasty, and they do not use growth hormones either. They have a web page listing all the cheeses they produce, as well as their commitment to vegetarians and kosher consumers.

          1. Here is a link to some info on kosher gelatin:
            http://glatech.com/

            1. There was a discussion on the very topic of vegetarian cheese in a Cornell University Q&A website called Uncle Ezra. See it here, it may contain some answers. http://ezra.cornell.edu/posting.php?t...

              The expert, Prof. Regenstein, works with some of the kosher agencies on various issues.

              1. Tillamook is a very good kosher cheddar that uses vegetarian rennet.

                5 Replies
                1. re: DeisCane

                  Deis, Tillamook is a great start for me since I was at their factory a few years ago and loved it! Thanks for the specific brand suggestion.

                  1. re: Laura D.

                    Laura, if you live near a Trader Joe's, they can be great for buying vegetarian cheeses. They even provide a handy list of which cheeses use macrobial rennets or enzymes for whatever, for easy shopping. Even without the list, there are many options, including their own blue cheese. It's difficult to find vegetarian blue cheese (I've bought some at Zabars) so this is pretty handy.

                    1. re: Clarissa

                      Wow...great tip. I'll check out Trader Joe's to see what information I can gather, as there is one not too far from me. Thanks!

                  2. re: DeisCane

                    BS"D

                    Important to note that only the kosher labeled Tillamook is kosher certified. Wouldn't want anyone to be mistake that all Tillamook is kosher certified.

                    1. re: ganeden

                      And from what I have seen, only the "medium" Tillamook cheddar is certified. The "sharp" cheddar is not.
                      If you love sharp cheddar, try the Cabot 18 mo. aged, which does have a hecksher.
                      The very best readily available kosher cheese, IMHO.
                      p.j.

                  3. Here's a great web page with lists of vegetarian cheeses:

                    http://cheese.joyousliving.com/

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: AmyH

                      Thanks, AmyH. I believe you have given Laura D the information that she is seeking.
                      p.j.

                    2. You're very welcome. It just happened to come up during a discussion on Washingtonpost.com (the cooking chat with Kim O'Donnell) today and I thought I'd share it here. I've been following this post with interest, well, maybe just curiosity, to see what kind of answers Laura D would get. It reminded me of the question of whether kosher marshmallows are vegetarian since they're parve (they're not, they use gelatin from fish bones).

                      1. Freakin' awesome, Amy.

                        1. My better half is a vegetarian and had also heard she was ok with kosher cheese. I did some research and the results are best summed up on one of the pages I found. The link is here to read. http://www.kashrut.com/articles/cheese/

                          Joe

                          1. BS"D

                            From my experience, kosher commercial (read: not artisnal) cheesemakers all use microbial rennets for cost and ready availability reasons.

                            I'd like to make my own cholov yisroel cheeses. Has anyone researched the proper ingredients for different types? Maybe it is easier to make the mozzarella and riccotta types but I'd like to do this and more. Although it will be hard to think about waiting 6 hrs from the aged cheese to meat meals now...!

                            1. Thanks to Gila, I realized that the OU (jewish orthodox union) does in fact permit animal rennet in minute amounts. I do know that many kosher cheeses still don't use animal rennet but you have to check brand by brand. Google OU if you want a list of veg or micrbial rennet cheese. I am sure they would be happy to comply. If you are not kosher, or not Jewish, I will be honest in saying that there are brands like Cabots and Tillamook with non animal rennet based cheese and they do taste as good or better than kosher cheese. Israeli cheese, however,....different story. Every cheese from Israel I have had is awesome.
                              Again, still have to check if animal rennet was used. sorry I could not help more. email the orthodox union. They are used to such questions

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: sharonkende

                                Animal rennet in cheeses made in the US is phenomenally uncommon. Much more common to run into animal rennet in European cheeses.

                                1. re: masteraleph

                                  Is that true to the whole industry, the kosher industry or the non-kosher industry?

                                  1. re: craigcep

                                    The whole industry. Vegetable rennet is cheaper and there are very few cheeses in which animal rennet makes a noticable difference. These are usually hard cheeses, such as reggiano.

                                    1. re: CloggieGirl

                                      At this point, animal vs. macrobial in even Reggiano is more about the regional rules than about taste.

                                  2. re: masteraleph

                                    It is also fairly uncommon in commercial European cheeses. It' simply too expensive.

                                    1. re: CloggieGirl

                                      Yes, the vast majority of supermarket cheese here in the UK say very clearly that they use vegetarian rennet.

                                      1. re: DeisCane

                                        Since I originally posted my question (wow, 7 1/2 years ago) I have noticed that many of the cheeses I buy are more clearly labeled than they had previously been, meaning the source of the rennet is often named. I agree that many cheeses I personally have an interest in seem to contain macrobial rennet, though I also agree that I haven't come across a decent Parmigano, Locatelli, or other hard Italian cheese which clearly states that it does not include animal based rennet. Thanks!

                                        1. re: Laura D.

                                          I am pretty sure that actual Parmigiano must be made with animal rennet.