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Dec 7, 2009 02:03 AM

Cruelty Free Organic Cheeses

I am a vegetarian eating dairy. Is there a cheese company that is cruelty free and organic please?

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  1. Hey phelana, my recommendations:

    Are there any dairies in your area? Small local cheese companies, in my experience, because of their size are more accountable to the community and therefore treat the animals in their care with respect. Furthermore, any good cheesemaker knows that humanely-treated animals raised traditionally give better milk that in turn makes better cheese.

    Any specialty store, and even Whole Foods, should have a trained and reputable cheese specialist who will be able to give you plenty of information on the cheeses they sell.

    Just as a side note, many small cheesemakers have traditional and organic or mostly-organic practices but either can't afford to be federally certified organic or don't care to be. In my area, a locally-famous cheesemaker refuses to get organic certification because the goats she raises are like children to her and, if one of them gets sick, she wouldn't be able to give them antibiotics if she were organically certified. So it's better to actually ask about their practices, IMO, than to get hung up on the "organic" label.

    Good luck!

    1. For a generally commercially available brand, you might want to check out Applegate Farms' line of organic cheeses (they also have a "natural" line). Based on their website, they might be the sort of company you're looking for.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Striver

          Applegate Farms is no longer certified. Here's a helpful list for you. They also have a phone app you can add that will help in grocery shopping.

        2. Phelana,

          The answer to your question, unfortunately, is NO. Even going to small, local dairies or cheese companies does not prevent you from contributing to animal cruelty. Here is a link to a very informative article that explains why--basically because all cheese requires enzymes to cause coagulation to congeal. Even those enzymes that are artifically created are created in a labratory by beginning with the enzymes from the stomach, throat, or etc. of a very young calf that is slaughtered to retrieve them. Perhaps if you find a goat milk & cheese farm such as the one mentioned below ....BUT these goats also must be continually impregnated to produce milk, and you still have to ask the owner WHAT s/he is doing with the ever-growing size of the goat herd. Once it reaches a "break-even" point for income so that the income taken in becomes a loss when sustaining the number of goats earned, the "extra" goats have to go somewhere or the farm goes out of business. So, what is the farm doing with the "extra" goats born through the continual birth needed to maintain the production of milk? I love cheese too, and I wish the answer were different, but it's not. Milk that other animals produce is meant for their babies, and the cheese we make from their milk, well, you know......

          1. Would European cheeses be more creulty free? Somehow, I feel like things would be abit different there. But, I'm probably wrong.

            17 Replies
            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

              A higher percentage of European cheeses are made with animal rennet, so depending on what people consider to be cruelty-free (and I freely admit that I don't buy into this standard) that may not be a better option.

              1. re: ferret

                I'm unsure why people would think that animal rennet is cruelty related.

                Where I am, in Europe, many small (and several much larger) cheese producers make to recognised registered organic standards. The system dairy farming is inherently cruelty free.

                1. re: Harters

                  Animal rennet isn't possible to get without killing a calf. Hence, the cruelty angle, and why it wouldn't be accpetable to a vegetarian. Most European cheeses use animal rennet.

                  Vegetable rennet comes from a number of plant-based sources, including thistle. I've made cheese with vegetable rennet and it works well. Here's a site with a begetarian-friendly list: which includes Applegate Farms (except their Havarti and Swiss). Bel Gioso (not their regular parmesean), Boar's Head, Cabot, Grafton Village, Horizon Organic, Land o' Lakes (not Monterey Jack, Monterey Jack, Jalapeno, Mozzarella, Muenster, Swiss, Asiago, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano and Processed American cheeses), Organic Valley, Sargento (not including contain Romano, Provolone, Asiago or Jarlsberg cheeses and blends that include those cheeses), Tillamook (not Vintage White Medium and Vintage White Sharp Cheddars)and Yancey's Fancy, all of which I have seen in Boston-area supermarkets.

                  1. re: Chris VR

                    Generally speaking, the rennet in Europe comes from bullocks born into dairy herds and culled within hours. As such, the rennet is a by-product of something that's happening anyway. Whether one regards that as an act of cruelty is a moot point. By the by, what happens with bullocks born into dairy herds where you are?

                    Of course, cheese which uses animal rennet is not acceptable to vegetarians - but that wasnt the question.

                    1. re: Harters

                      Sorry, I must have misread somewhere. The question I was answering was why animal rennet wouldn't be acceptable to someone asking: "I am a vegetarian eating dairy. Is there a cheese company that is cruelty free and organic please?" Which question were you answering?

                      I'm not going to get into an argument if culling or using the products of culling is actually cruel or not; I"m not a vegetarian and have made my peace with accepting where my omnivorous diet comes from. The vegetarians I have known have not, and that's why I assume they'd consider animal rennet not cruelty-free, and I was trying to offer brands which might meet that need. Do you have specific recommendations for that question?

                      Since this thread is over 2 years old, I assume the OP has found this answer, but maybe it will be useful to others with the same question.

                      1. re: Chris VR

                        I was answering the question - the sentence with the question mark.

                        As for a recommendation for the OP, one of my favourite (and very local) cheeses uses vegetarian rennet:


                        There are a number of other well known cheeses (mainly from larger producers) that use the microbial rennet which I believe is perfectly acceptable to veggies:

                        Quickes Cheddar -

                        Hawes Wensleydale -

                        Long Clawson Red Leicester (although not their Stilton) -

                        Butler's Blacksticks Blue (another personal favourite) -

                        And some more where I havnt bothered to look up a website:-

                        Beenlegh Blue
                        Cornish Yarg
                        Stinking Bishop
                        Keltic Gold
                        Cenarth Caerffili

                        And a few from across the water:

                        Cashel Blue
                        Ardrahan (excellent if you can ever find it)

              2. re: sisterfunkhaus

                Phelana & sisterfunkhaus,

                Even microbial "rennet" or "enzymes", as they are usually ambiguously listed on the ingredients list on cheese packages, must first start in a labratory from a molecule derived from the stomach, throat, trachea, etc of a very young calf slaughtered to get that molecule to articically make that enzyme; hence, there is no way around that aspect of cruelty to cheese production. Neither is there escaping the fact that dairy cows, just like humans, do NOT spontaneously lactate. They MUST be impregnated continuously, and something must be done with their calves--whether the dairy cows are organic or not. On average, calves are taken away from their mothers within two weeks of their birth. Momma cows cry another 2-3 weeks seeking a "return bellow", followed by a "lost" calf that never returns. Both Horizon and Organic Valley admit that their male calves are trucked elsewhere to be raised for slaughter to be sold as beef. Their dairy cows are depleted (too crippled from calcium loss from their own bones from forced milk production because of constant impregnation) and sold within 4-5 years to be slaughtered for sale as beef. One more thing to keep in mind when considering "organic" milk is this: on average, 40% of cows used for milk production develop mastitis (painful, inflammatory infection of the udders); because organic cows are not treated with any antibiotics to maintain their organic status, these cows are allowed to suffer with this disease throughout the entirety of their lives once it develops. That does NOT at all mean that I support turning to non-organic milk. These are just some of the concerns that those selecting organic dairy products should not ignore. There really is NO cruelty-free dairy. I'm sure you already know that regular dairy cows are given loads of antibiotics to prevent infections so that they can be packed together, their male calves are either turned into veal or beef calves, and the dairy cows themselves are sold as beef cows at 3-4 years for the same reason I mentioned above concerning organic dairy cows. If someone chooses to consume dairy products, s/he is contributing directly to the suffering and death of many cows. There are absolutely NO special slaughterhouses, at least in the United States, that do anything but cause immense suffering both for the animals and the workers who cause it. Why does the average turnover rate for employees, apart from non-management workers, nears almost 100% every year?

                1. re: DuffyToby

                  So many generalizations. Cattle are domesticated. Bred for the SOLE purpose of production. Whether or not you find this ethical, it's still true. Weaning calves isn't necessarily any more horrifying than weaning a human baby. Not every animal slaughtered ends up at a slaughterhouse for the purpose. There are dairy families that retire their milkers to pasture respectfully. Some animals are slaughtered humanely on the farm. Some non-organic dairies are not CAFO operations and do not need to (irresponsibly) inundate their herds with antibiotics. Some organic dairies are essentially CAFOs in disguise. Most organic dairies do not let their cattle suffer; because of the black and white nature of organic certification, a cow that needs antibiotics is retired from production (another reason to consider local and get to know your local dairy families - not everyone abuses antibiotics). Sometimes mastitis just happens. It happens to human moms! There's lots and lots of nuance.

                  If you want to promote a vegan agenda, I understand, but this question was from someone trying to move in the "right" direction for herself. Why not let those of us interested in answering her question answer her question?

                  1. re: Vetter

                    Simply being bred for a specific purpose does not make that purpose ethical, as you correctly state.

                    Perhaps shockingly, I am very familiar with cattle raising, including weaning, because my father has been raising cows in central Texas--near Fredericksburg, Texas-- for over forty years. Weaning does not happen naturally in any sort of time period like that used when they are torn away from their mothers as it does when cows are impregnated for the specific use of dairy collection. The information you posted, unfortunately, reflects less than 0.5% of the U.S. dairy industry. Mastitis "just happens", and I never said it was intentionally inflicted--only stated that it cannot be treated if an organic dairy farm wants to retain its organic status, and it does not appear that you disagree.

                    I have no argument with what you said about CAFO & non-CAFO operations that treat their cattle responsibly. The problem for Phelana & others, which addresses her question, is that cheese made from milk from these non-CAFO dairies and made without enzymes that have no origin in calf molecules, is that it is NOT available in the U.S. While you may certainly be trying to answer Phelana's question as you simply try to move her in the "right" direction, perhaps you have some connection to one of the 0.5% of these local dairy families of which you speak, hence, your overt defensiveness? If so, that is terrific, and I wish the U.S. factory farming industry would revert back into the hands of concerned, hands-on family farmers such as you and my dad (beef).

                    As it is now, the vast majority of milk available in, and all cheese products available in, the U.S. come at the expense of the suffering of cattle. As you said, whether you find this suffering ethical or the domestication of cattle for this purpose acceptable, we are trying to answer Phelana's question, who is trying to move in the right direction, but she wants a full & honest answer (about CHEESE-which you never mention, but okay...). Since you think I have an agenda other than telling the truth about how cheese is made, let's take you & me out of the answer. By her question, Phelana wants to know if a cruelty-free cheese company exists, and if so, what its name is. You talked about dairy farms to the exclusion of cheese, and I talked about dairy farms & cheese making. I encourage whoever wants to know if there is any cruelty-free cheese to read the article which link I posted earlier. It discusses what enzymes (proteins) it takes for the milk to solidify and then how it develops its different flavors (lipids). Unfortunately, and I mean that because I LOVE cheese, these are ALL taken from the throats, tracheas, etc. of calves to achieve this.

                    If you can find a small family dairy farm such as that mentioned above that will sell you its milk and hopefully pasteurize it for you (unless you can get it straight from the udder), 99.5% of all milk sold in the U.S., unfortunately, is collected at great expense to cattle wherein they are repeatedly impregnated so that they can lactate; male babies are sold as veal or for beef. Female babies are either sold as the same or turned into milk cows. Even responsible, family dairy farms must impregnate their cattle and do SOMETHING with the calves other than let them nurse very long because the farmers want to collect the lactating momma cows’ milk so that it can be sold to people. WhatEVER farm from which the milk comes, almost all cheese is made using the same enzymes & lipids derived from the calves’ throats, etc., even if it used to create a GMO enzyme.

                    It is due to Americans' demand for cheaper and cheaper meat, milk, & cheese that family farms have largely been run out of business because it’s vastly more expensive to treat the animals with respect & concern for basic life needs than to cram them into huge pens & barns & treat them like money-making objects with no basic welfare needs such as fresh air, clean water & attention to infections, etc. The more animals that can be crammed into a space, the more milk they can be forced to produce & the faster they can be slaughtered, the cheaper the gallon of milk or the price per pound .......which means BIG factory farms with bigger dollars have taken over dairy production, forcing family farms out of business and the animals' welfare into oblivion because it makes milk 50 cents less per 1/2 gallon and cheese a dollar less per pound. If Vetter's protests belonged to 99.5% of dairy farmers instead of 0.5% of dairy farmers, there would be so, so many fewer people like me for him with which to argue!

                    1. re: DuffyToby

                      Hi All,

                      I don't know if this thread is still alive, but I hope so. I'm in a very similar place with the original questioner and have read the many and informative comments thus far. I appreciate the information coming from all parties even though I recognize some of it seems a little contentious; for me it is useful to delve into the nuances the way this leads to.

                      I can't help noticing from all parties that there are phrases like "nearly all" and "99.5%" and such. Totally fair and I'm not saying those aren't useful, becuase they are. What I'm left wondering, though, is ... who are the .5% and is there ANYONE doing this "right", even if extremely rare? Or is there simply no such thing as doing it right, due to the enzyme/calf issue. I'm gathering that to be the case. But is it for cheese only and there are still reasonable and humane milk options, albeit rare? Or is the whole issue of dairy 100% impossible for someone whose focus is animal cruelty? I currently draw a line between pasture raised meats and factory farms. I'm okay with beef, pork and chicken that is humanely raised, but I don't feel right about veal. Likewise I'm still okay with fish and seafood, although not octopus, which understand to be a very smart and aware creature. So if there's a way to have milk that isn't supporting the veal industry -- even if it's only .5% -- then I'd like to understand how, and who from. Sounds like cheese is off the menu for me, which is sad. Is there anyone looking for scientific ways around this enzyme? Seems like with cloning and such advancements, the ought to be a way. I'd pay extra for it, just as I do for pasture raised meats. Thanks in advance to all of you who are sharing your knowledge.

                      1. re: holdenhume

                        As I said upthread, there are a fair number of cheeses on the market using vegetable rennet, which has nothing to do with calves.

                        The list I pointed to on my post upthread seems to be up to date and lists more cheese than when I pointed to it originally, so it's best to go check this list for yourself

                        1. re: Chris VR

                          Cool. Thanks. This whole cruelty free business is complicated, but once I started to picture the actual animal involved and the life it had before it became my meal, it just stopped being much of a choice for me. Still, rather exhausting, as I do love good food.

                          1. re: holdenhume

                            holdenhume, you and I are on exactly the same page. I quit eating all meat and dairy because what these imprisoned creatures endure for human greed is intolerable. Also, thank you for your comment about octopus. I have never eaten it and never will. Someone once tried to serve me an octopus salad and I burst into tears. Squid, too, are intelligent creatures and can differentiate between humans they know and squirt water at strangers! That was the end of calamari for me. (And I have NEVER eaten lobster.)

                          2. re: Chris VR

                            Yes, but I think people are asking not only with respect to rennet, but also to the process of getting the MILK. As many people have mentioned, the dairy industry creates a lot of suffering for the milk bearing cows (and their young). We're looking for animals not forced to give milk for 10 months of the year, and whose male calves aren't sold for veal. (ie the old fashioned way).

                            1. re: JMill

                              I think selling the male calves for veal or beef *is* the old fashioned way. Honestly, they aren't much "use" in any other way for a dairy farm. This place does lots of things the old fashioned way, but it includes selling beef:

                              They do treat their dairy cows well, allowing them to suckle their calves for a good portion of the year.

                      2. re: DuffyToby

                        You DO NOT need to be pregnant to produce milk. Men can even produce milk. All that is required for lactation is constant suckling/stimulation. My dog who has never had puppies and is fixed breastfed some kittens. They continued to suckle her breast until she began producing milk. I could feel it in her teets, so no, you do not have to continuously impregnate to produce milk. Why farms do it, I don't know, but it is NOT a requirement.

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