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?

3 Answers 3


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.? Commented Sep 24, 2017 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
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 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
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 17:40

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 .

  • The UK does not require manufacturers to label such things either, but it's still fairly common (not universal). How common is it in the US to see "Suitable for vegetarians" (or equivalent) on products that are vegetarian?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 17:47

A method that will work for some brands is to check for a kosher certification mark (a hechsher).

While kosher does not imply vegetarian, kosher rules prohibit any mixture containing milk and meat. So kosher cheese is always made with FPC or microbial rennet.

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