Is cheese vegetarian? Let’s try to clarify the concept.
What is cheese?
‘The name cheese is intended for the product obtained from whole milk, i.e. semi-skimmed or skimmed, or from cream, as a result of acid coagulation or rennet, also using cultures and cooking salt.’ (1)
The requirements to designate a food as ‘cheese’ are therefore two, the use of milk or cream as primary ingredient, and the coagulation process. (2)
Coagulation can be obtained with three types of rennet:
– animal rennet, extracted from the stomach of caprine, ovine or bovine babies. That’s the most commonly used for making cheese,
– vegetable rennet, obtained from flowers or plants as wild thistle (Cynara cardunculus), (3) artichoke, fig, fennel,
– microbial rennet, obtained by fungi and molds, at times genetically modified. (4)
Is cheese vegetarian?
The legal name for ‘cheese’, in European food law, can be used without distinction with regards to the type of rennet employed. Food business operators, in their turn, are not required to specify the origin of the rennet on the label.
Vegetarian? The EU Commissioner for Food Safety and Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis, recently declared his intention to leave to the next Commission, in 2019, the duty to define the ‘information related to suitability of a food product for vegetarians and vegans.’ As instead required by the European legislator as long ago as 2011. (5)
The European Vegetarian Union‘s proposal
The European Vegetarian Union, a recognized European association, has meanwhile made a proposal in Brussels to adopt a specific legal definition, as follows retabled in its original text:
-‘Vegan are foods that are not products of animal origin and in which, at no stage of production and processing, use has been made of or the food has been supplemented with
– ingredients (including additives, carriers, flavourings and enzymes) or
– processing aids or
– substances which are not food additives but are used in the same way and with the same purpose as processing aids in either processed or unprocessed form that are of animal origin.
– Vegetarian are foods which meet the requirements of paragraph 1, with the difference that in their production
1 – milk,
2 – colostrum,
3 – eggs (No. 5 of Annex I to Regulation EC No. 853/2004),
4 – honey (Annex I to Directive 2001/110/EC),
5 – beeswax,
6 – propolis or
7 – wool grease including lanolin derived from the wool of living sheep or their components or derivatives may be added or used’.
How to make sure cheese is vegetarian
Is cheese vegetarian? According to the proposal definition by the European Vegetarian Union – which, moreover, matches the common sense of informed consumActors – cheese is suitable for a veggie diet only if made with vegetable or microbial rennet.
How to recognize vegetarian cheese? First of all, by looking at the ingredients list on the food label. ‘Vegetable rennet’ or ‘microbial rennet’ ought to appear, meaning the product is certified (albeit auto-certified) as ‘vegetarian’. Otherwise, the producer’s website may provide the relevant information.
(1) Italian Royal Decree No.10.15.1925 No. 2033, Article 32
(2) Therefore ricotta is for example a dairy and not a cheese, since made without the coagulation process
(3) For example caciofiore, traditionally in the surroundings of Roma and the Abruzzo region, is coagulated through the use of thistle
(4) The use of genetically modified microorganisms is not subject to the obligation of a specific indication on the label as GMO’s are. Refer to our free e-book ‘GMO, the Big Scam’, on https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/en/books/gmo-the-big-scam
(5) Under Regulation EU No. 1169/11, the name ‘cheese’ can be used to designate ‘all kinds of cheeses where the cheese or mixture of cheeses constitutes an ingredient of another food and provided that the name and presentation of such food does not refer to a specific type of cheese’ (Annex VII, Part B, point 6)
(6) See Reg. EU 1169/11, Article 36.3, letter B