One of the hardest things to give up when I became vegan was cheese. I think that goes for most vegans I have talked with and most vegetarians name cheese as the one thing keeping them from being vegan. Begin a “strict-vegetarian” and eating cheese must be met with reading labels and investigating for cheeses that do not contain animal rennet. Most brands now use vegetable rennet as a coagulant but some smaller companies still employ the calf-intestine enzyme to set their cheeses. You’ll find it in almost every hard cheese such as parmesan.
What is rennet and how is it produced?
Dried and cleaned stomachs of young calves are sliced into small pieces and then put into saltwater or whey, together with some vinegar or wine to lower the pH of the solution. After some time (overnight or several days), the solution is filtered. The crude rennet that remains in the filtered solution can then be used to coagulate milk. About 1 gram of this solution can normally coagulate 2000 to 4000 grams of milk.
Deep-frozen stomachs are milled and put into an enzyme-extracting solution. The crude rennet extract is then activated by adding acid; the enzymes in the stomach are produced in an inactive preform and are activated by the stomach acid. After neutralization of the acid, the rennet extract is filtered in several stages and concentrated until reaching the required potency: about 1:15000 (1 kg of rennet would have the ability to coagulate 15000 litres of milk).
Calf stomachs used for rennet production
So, you may be enjoying a bit of calf-stomach scrapings with that hunk of cheddar. Considering that and the fact you’re just eating dried, moldy bovine-secretions why keep on eating it? There are some good soy and rice cheeses on the market. True, some are just like eating waxed paper but a few stand out. Follow Your Heart makes excellent Cheddar and Mozzarella, both melt great and the Cheddar can make a mean mac and cheese. Galaxy makes a good rice Parmesan and individual slice, but be sure to read the label as some of their products contain casein, a milk protein aids in melting. Follow Your Heart cheese do not contain casein and melt just fine.
Also, don’t think all of those dairy cows live a great life just being milked daily. They are kept pregnant and live short lives, average being 4 years. Are you contributing to the cruel farming of animals by just eating dairy cheese? Yes.
All of this leads up to a news story I saw today. Sweetwater Valley Farm, a local Tennesssee cheese maker, has issued a statement saying one type of it’s cheese should not be eaten as it may contain Listeria. Seems like a worthy risk to eat that nice cheesy sandwich or casserole topped with stringy goodness, doesn’t it? Listeria can cause death in the young or elderly. Healthy adults may be inconvenienced by headaches, cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. No big deal. Teh story also mentions that if you have some of this cheese you may return it for a replacement. Something doesn’t sound right about that. “Here’s my chunk of Listeria, may I have another that has less bacteria?”
While were on the subject of cheese, don’t forget about Cazu Marzu!