vegetariancheesesmall 13

Animal Rennet 04/06/11

Are you eating the stomach of an unweaned calf? Laura Cooke finds out more about South African cheese.


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As a vegetarian, it can be quite tricky to always know what to look for when food shopping. I only recently discovered the animal by-products used in the wine-making process and I am sure that there are many other products that don’t declare all the items that are used in their production.
So, I thought it would be worth taking a look at another food item that most vegetarians still enjoy: cheese. While many cheese makers do label their cheese as vegetarian or that it is made with non-animal rennet, I particularly wanted to find out more about the state of South African cheese.

Who better to ask than Kobus Mulder, the Manager of Dairy at Agri-Expo, who kindly answered some questions for Veggie Buntch.

Veggie Buntch:  What’s the difference between animal and non-animal rennet?
Kobus Mulder: Animal rennet is an enzyme, rennin, secreted in the fourth stomach of calves, lambs, and goats. It is mostly obtained by drying and extracting it from the stomachs of unweaned calves. Non-animal or microbial rennet, is artificially secreted from genetically modified bacteria,Mucor miehei.

VB: What is the purpose of rennet in the cheese-making process?
KM: Firstly it coagulates the milk proteins into a gel in order for the cheese maker to cut the coagulum – this is to facilitate curds and whey. Secondly, it degrades lactose, proteins and fat during ripening to produce cheese flavour.

VB: Do lots of cheese makers still use animal rennet?
KM: Very few in South Africa, maybe 5%.  Countries like France, Italy, Spain, Japan only use animal rennet. [Ed’s note: Good to know when next at the store!]

VB: Do you have any idea where cheese makers source animal rennet?
KM: It is obtainable from international supply companies who have agents in SA. It is no longer made in SA due to the low demand.

VB: Are South African cheeses makers obliged to label their cheeses as including animal rennet?
KM: No.

VB: Where can consumers source information on the cheeses that do or don’t use animal rennet?
KM: From the maker of the cheese.

VB: Have you noticed a growing awareness among consumers about this issue?
KB: No. Ordinary cheese consumers are not concerned with it as it is not a health or taste issue. Halaal and Kosher cheeses have always been made with plant or microbial rennet due to their religion and vegetarians have slowly been asking for it since the mid-nineties.

The good news is that South Africa doesn’t produce animal rennet at all, due to the lack of demand, and the majority of our cheese is safe for vegetarians. The bad news however, is that cheese makers are under no obligation to state that they do use animal rennet.

So it’s probably best to contact a farm directly if you want to be 100% sure. And, stick to local. No more Italian or French cheese on my platters!

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.


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13 Responses to this article

 
Roline April 6, 2011 Reply

As a point to remember if you do not want to consume animal-rennet products:
ALL Parmesan cheeses use animal rennet. Unless the container says “Parmesan-style cheese”, you are not in the clear. That includes Parmesan by major suppliers, such as Woolworths. The Parmesan-style cheese by the Mediterranean food company doesn’t use animal rennet, and it is no different than using normal Parmesan in my opinion. I would recommend always looking at the “Ingredients” section on the packaging label, as this is where you will find out the quickest whether the cheese is made with animal rennet, or with a non-animal rennet.

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Editor: Laura April 7, 2011 Reply

Thanks for adding this – I didn’t know that about Parmesan.

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mehn April 7, 2011 Reply

Whether or not there is rennet in the cheese is morally irrelevant. Ever heard the saying “there is a piece of veal in every glass of milk”?

Animals, including humans and cows, need to have a baby to lactate/produce milk of a meaningful quantity. Cows are repeatedly impregnated (in what industry calls rape cages) and their calves are removed from them, causing much stress and pain. This is not excited vegan hyberbole, but fact reflected in the many agricultural journal articles that address ways in which dairy farmers can manage this issue (usually involving fencing/enslavement or drugs). The male baby calves are useless to the indusrty and are sold for veal.

Whether or not you eat rennet, if you buy dairy products you are paying for this cruelty. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HQzb4JaLbo.

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Jodi Allemeier April 8, 2011 Reply

Hear hear!

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Lynette Green June 9, 2011 Reply

CAN ANYONE OUT THERE TELL ME WHERE I CAN BUY RENNET, PLEASE?

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Editor: Laura June 9, 2011 Reply

Hi Lynette – we are probably not the right people to ask! But I suggest you get in touch with Agri-Expo. Perhaps they can assist.

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Elaine December 30, 2013 Reply

You can buy from http://www.cheesemaking.co.za

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JP Groenewald October 2, 2013 Reply

Where can I buy some rennet for home cheese making (small quantity) in or the nearest to Bleomfontein ?

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Laura Cooke – Editor November 1, 2013 Reply

You could buy a cheese making kit. I see YuppieChef has some http://www.yuppiechef.com/cheese-making-kits.htm

These include vegetarian rennet.

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Curiouser and curiouser October 26, 2013 Reply

Good to know that French and Italian cheeses don’t contain genetically modified organisms.

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L BURNAPP November 1, 2013 Reply

where can i buy lactose free cheese.

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Laura Cooke – Editor November 1, 2013 Reply

Hi there, I am not sure. Woolworths stocks lactose-free yoghurt. You could also try some of the dairy-free alternatives. VeganSA has a number listed: http://www.vegansa.com/foodstuffs-cheese.php

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Elaine December 30, 2013 Reply

Almost all semi-hard cheese like cheddar, has no lactose/very small amounts after 2 months of maturation. By that time the bacteria has consumed it. So buy some mature cheese of gouda/cheddar type and you have it :-)

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