You know that most cheese is made with rennet, right? And you know where rennet comes from, right? If you don’t, well, brace yourself.

Rennet is derived from the enzymes in a newborn baby calf’s stomach. That’s right, nearly as soon as the baby is born, they slaughter it to get those enzymes so that they can make the cheese from the milk that its mother will no longer be able to feed it. (Heartbreaking, isn’t it?)

But it is possible to make cheese without using animal rennet. In fact, any cheese that is marked “Kosher”, by definition cannot have a product derived from a dead animal mixed in with the dairy, so it will not have animal rennet.

Unfortunately, a lot of Kosher cheese (not all, but a lot) is also rather, well, bland (to be kind).

Other than that, it’s hard to find cheese that you can know does not use animal rennet. For some reason, many cheese producers simply list in the ingredients, instead of rennet, the word “enzymes”. And enzymes can mean either animal rennet, or non-animal rennet. And I certainly don’t want to chance it, do you?

But here’s something interesting – there are cheese producers who make really good cheese, and who don’t use animal rennet. Why they don’t shout this from the rooftops is beyond me. They are missing a big market.

One example is Tillamook, a cheese that is sold in many supermarkets across the United States. If you look at their ingredient list, you’ll find that it clearly says “We do not use animal rennet.” But you have to really look. All Tillamook cheese is safe for vegetarians – and free from animal rennet – except for their special 2 year reserve cheddar, which I’ve only seen a few times anywhere. (I know all this because we toured the Tillamook factory, up on Oregon, and they are very proud of the fact that they use no animal rennet, and they warned us about that special 2 year reserve cheddar.)

We particularly go through a lot of Tillamook’s medium cheddar, which we buy in 2 lb. loaves, and my husband and I also love their sharp cheddar, but they also make other standards, such as Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, and pepper Jack.

A brand with which you may be less familiar, but which is well-known in California, and also rennet free, and organic to boot, is Horizon.

Horizon is awesome because in addition to being organic and rennet free, they sell a lot of pre-shredded cheese, which is awesome for making pizza, Mexican food, etc.. And they sell several varieties, for example they sell a shredded mozzarella, a shredded cheddar, and a shredded Monterey Jack. They even sell a blend of shredded cheddar, colby and jack!

The most recent example of really good cheese that is vegetarian, but you’d never know it without asking, is the cheese from the Marin French Cheese Company. They make, among other yummy cheeses, the wonderful Rouge et Noir Triple Creme Brie. Now, nowhere on the package will you find them telling you that it’s vegetarian and rennet-free. They use that horribly ambiguous word “enzymes” in the ingredients list. But I happened to be at Whole Foods one day, and they had a Marin French Cheese Company rep there handing out samples, and he was telling the world that it was vegetarian. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Absolutely,” he responded, “you can even look it up on our website.” And so I could, and you can too – you can read about how all of their cheeses are rennet-free here.

You can buy their Rouge et Noir Triple Creme Brie here.

It’s wonderful served with some fresh pears. And it’s fantastic with the top skin sliced off, and warmed apricot preserves poured on top.

So there you have it. If cheese is part of your diet, now you can have delicious cheese that you know to be vegetarian.