Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

In this article, I dig into the tricky question, Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

Many vegetarians eat cheese. There are different variables that determine if a vegetarian chooses to eat cheese. The specific vegetarian diet that a person follows. Whether the cheese contains animal by-products and the humane treatment of animals are the main deciding factors.

Continue with me as I dig into this question further.

What’s A Vegetarian?

Let’s start with the basic definition of what a vegetarian is.

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products for moral, religious, and/or health reasons.

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What Ingredients In Cheese Are Not Vegetarian?

One ingredient often used to make traditional Parmesean, Pecorino Romano, Camembert, Gruyere, and Manchego is an animal by-product. The ingredient is rennet.

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What Is Rennet?

Rennet is an enzyme that is found inside the stomachs of young cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. The enzyme is used to help separate the milk into curds and whey.

It has been said that rennet was discovered around 8000BC when someone was transporting milk in a container made of a dried calf or sheep’s stomach. The rennet in the stomach transformed the milk into curds and whey.

What is Vegetarian Rennet?

There are alternatives to animal rennet being used to make cheese that is vegetarian friendly.

Vegetable rennet comes from thistles, artichokes, or nettles. The plants are soaked in water to extract the thickening enzyme that is used to thicken the cheeses instead of using animal-based rennet.

Microbial rennet is a coagulating agent that is produced from mold, fungus, or yeast grown in labs.

Fermentation-produced chymosin is identical to the enzyme that’s made inside the animal’s stomachs. The fermented product has been used by cheesemakers for over 30 years. Chymosin is a product of genetic modification, but the cheese itself not considered a genetically modified product.

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How Do I Know If A Cheese Is Made With Vegetarian Rennet?

The FDA does not require cheese companies to note where the rennet comes from. It can and is often listed as enzymes on the cheese label which can make it difficult to know where the rennet or enzymes comes from.

It has been estimated that around 90% of cheeses made in the United States are made using Fermentation-produced chymosin.

To be sure that the cheese you have selected doesn’t include animal rennet it’s best to purchase cheeses that label their ingredient as vegetable rennet, microbial rennet, or as vegetarian friendly.

The last way to confirm where the rennet comes from is to contact the cheese company to confirm.

Soft cheeses like cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and swiss are made without rennet.

Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

What Cheeses Do Not Include Animal Products?

Here is a list of Cheese Brands that do not include the animal by-product rennet.

Cheese BrandType Of Rennet
Organic ValleyVegetarian Enzyme
Horizon OrganicMicrobial enzymes
365 MarketMicrobial Enzymes
Kirkland SignatureMicrobial Enzymes
ApplegateVegetable Rennet
Cedar GroveNon-Animal Vegetarian

What Is Vegan Cheese?

Vegan Cheese is made from a variety of plant-based ingredients including soy, nuts, seeds, coconut, flour, root vegetables, and aquafaba. These cheeses are made into shredded, cream, block, sliced, and parmesan styles.

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Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

Is Eating Cheese Ethically Wrong As A Vegetarian?

Even if cheese doesn’t include animal rennet there may still be cruel treatment done to the animals that a vegetarian should consider.

I’m not going to get into all of the inhumane treatments animals can endure when they are used to produce food. I can remember being shocked when I found out calves are taken from their mothers at dairy farms shortly after birth and males are used for veal.

If animal treatment is a concern for you it’s best to take a deeper look into it to make the best choice for yourself.

How Can I Get Cruelty-Free Dairy?

It can be tough to completely ensure that the dairy you are purchasing was produced in a cruelty-free way. There are different labels on the products that can give you more information.


The USDA Organic standard appears to be the only terms with a legal definition of how a product is made, what’s in the product and animal welfare.

The USDA Organic standard ensures that inspections are being done to the farms. Hopefully, due to the inspections, more farmers are following the guidelines.

The Conditions For Organic Dairy:

  • Animals are to be fed organic grass or grain only. No by-products.
  • Animals must be allowed to graze in the pasture 120+ days a year
  • Growth hormones and antibiotics can not be used
  • The living conditions must be clean, include shelter, shade, fresh air, clean drinking water, an exercise area, sunlight, and dry clean bedding

The USDA Organic label and practices are a great start but, it doesn’t account for inhumane practices that are done on these farms. The Organic label doesn’t confirm that the products are completely cruelty-free.

Hormone-Free, , rBST-free, rBGH-free, or No Hormones Added

These labels are not connected to the treatment of the animals. They ensure the animals are not treated with any artificial hormones.


This is one of the most confusing and misleading labels. Natural paints a perfect picture. In reality, all “natural” means is that the product was produced has been minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.

Sustainably Raised, or Humanely Raised

This category of labels includes pasture-raised, pasture grown, meadow raised, raised naturally, pasture-fed.

It’s hard to know exactly what the terms mean for the specific farm in question. It’s best to check with the USDA for the definition of the term and the farm for how they are interpreting it.

Grass Fed, Vegetarian fed, Forage Fed

The standard says weaned animals must only be fed grass, pre-grains, or forbs.

This doesn’t ensure any specific animal conditions. The animals can be fed all of the grass indoors in factory conditions and fed grain towards the end of their life to fatten them up.

Free Range

This one tricked me. I pictured the animals roaming in a pasture and enjoying life. Not the case, first the USDA only looks at this standard for chickens and eggs.

All free range or cage free means is the chickens are not kept in cages. They have an average of 1.2 square feet per bird and may never see sunlight.

Certified Animal Welfare Approved By The AGW

The AWA is an independent and completely nonprofit farm certification. Consumer reports have acknowledged this organization and label it as the only “highly meaningful” food label for animal welfare.

Being certified by the AWG is the only way to guarantee that an animal is raised in a pasture environment by independently owned farmers using sustainable farming practices with the animal’s welfare at the forefront.

The farms are audited at least once a year by professional auditors to ensure that they are following the guidelines and meeting the AWA standards.

The only downside to this label at the moment is the focus on small farms which makes it hard to locate the products for sale.

Certified Humane

The Certified Humane labeling program requires outdoor access for the animals or more space and bedding for animals raised indoors. Cage confinement, antibiotics, and hormones are prohibited.

This is a good label but, is still very limited with its requirements for living standards and farming practices. It’s much better than conventional standards but, improvements can still be made.

Global Animal Partnership (GAP)

This animal welfare labeling system has six levels that each represent a high standard of care and welfare.

The positives with Global Animal Partnership (GAP) is it’s clearly noted where a farm stands and the higher levels ensure better standards.

The lower levels still allow practices and care that is much closer to conventional farming

Do Vegetarians Eat Cheese?

Types Of Vegetarians That Eat Cheese

Flexitarians– a Flexitarian consumes a mostly vegetarian diet but, still will eat some dairy, eggs and meat.

Pescatarian– a Pescatarian consumes a mostly vegetarian diet but, still will eat dairy, eggs and seafood.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian– a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian doesn’t eat meat, fish, and poultry but, still will consume dairy and eggs.

Lacto Vegetarian– A Lacto vegetarian is very similar to a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian with the exception that they also do not eat eggs.

Types Of Vegetarians That Don’t Eat Cheese

Ovo-Vegetarian– An Ovo Vegetarian doesn’t eat meat, poultry, seafood, or dairy. They consume a mostly plant-based diet with the exception of eggs

Vegans– Vegans do not consume any animal products


There are many variables that determine if a vegetarian eats cheese.

  • The type of vegetarian diet that the person follows?
  • Does the cheese include the animal by-product rennet?
  • Does the person feel it’s ethical to eat dairy products?

How you answer the three questions determines if your vegetarian diet includes cheese.

According to the Ipsos MORI Study 8% of the global population considers themselves vegetarian or pescatarian. 3% of the global population is vegan.

With a higher percentage of vegetarians that still consume dairy products.I would confidently say more vegetarians eat cheese than those that do not.

One of my favorite vegetarian recipes that include cheese is Vegetarian Enchiladas. They are a family favorite.

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