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The process of turning milk into cheese involves using an enzyme called chymosin. Traditionally in the West, chymosin was obtained from rennet, a substance extracted from the stomachs of dead baby cows. This is obviously problematic from a vegetarian point of view, but thankfully in America and the U.K. at least, companies have mostly have mostly stopped using rennet; instead they mostly produce chymosin through fermentation. Here's what Wikipedia says:

FPC [Fermentation-produced chymosin] was the first artificially produced enzyme to be registered and allowed by the US Food and Drug Administration. In 1999, about 60% of US hard cheeses were made with FPC, and it has up to 80% of the global market share for rennet. By 2008, about 80% to 90% of commercially made cheeses in the US and Britain were made using FPC.

My question is, how do you distinguish between the 80-90% of cheeses that don't use rennet, vs. the 10-20% of cheeses that do? Is there something to look for in the labeling?

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In the UK, cheeses made with non-animal rennet (the majority, as you say) are typically labelled in a user-friendly way, including the text:

Suitable for vegetarians

and in the ingredients we can find the phrase

non-animal rennet

The use of non-vegetarian rennet is usually denoted, in my experience of asking makers and manufacturers, by the absence of any mention of the source of the rennet; therefore, I assume the cheese is non-vegetarian unless it claims to be vegetarian.

  • What about the U.S.? – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 24 '17 at 12:46
  • A simple google search yielsd - cheese.joyousliving.com and vegetarian.lovetoknow.com/… . The US does not require manufacturers to label such things - – Panther Sep 24 '17 at 14:20
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I can only speak of my own experience; I wouldn't presume to say how things are in the US, regardless of what I can find with search engines... – Zanna Sep 24 '17 at 17:40
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The US does not require manufacturers to label such things. So, unless the product specifically states it is vegan or vegetarian, I would presume it contains or uses rennet or other enzymes for all we know.

A simple google search yields a few sites with "safe" lists - What are the Vegetarian Cheese lists? and Are there any Cheeses that do not contain Rennet .

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