I love cheese. Adore it. I just finished eating a sandwich. It would not have been a proper sandwich without cheese. Fresh bread, black olive spread, hummus, butter and… cheese.
That being said, being vegetarian not all cheeses are right proper. Some who assume that all cheeses are unsuitable for vegetarians like to rub it in my face and tell me I’m not truly vegetarian, just as I’m also at fault for having a leather belt or shoes. Digressing for a second, my casual shoes are veggie, I own a pair of vegetarian dress shoes (but the material is nowhere near as flexible as leather and they don’t last nearly as long, so keep them for nice occasions). As AC Grayling said, “I’m a vegetarian, but I wear leather shoes. Some people say that’s a contradiction; I say I’m doing my best.” The people who go out of their way to challenge are often insecure, doing so as a defence mechanism for lacking the courage to inspect their system of values. Like the person who cannot eat meat dishes where the meat looks like… meat. Borrowing the opinions and values of others without taking the time to sort through them honestly (if you can’t be honest with yourself, how the bloody hell are you going to make it through life with and semblance of being decently adjusted?!).
But I digress. Again.
Why are some cheeses not considered vegetarian? Rennet. It is an enzyme produced by the stomach of mammals to digest their mother’s milk and is used in the production of many cheeses as a coagulant to firm it up and make it go from milk to cheese. Often it’s bovine rennet (calfs, needs to be young animals). The cheese shop I usually attend was sampling a Spanish cheese that uses lamb’s rennet. To those who are reading this and saying “but it’s not even proper meat” go away. This article’s not for you and you don’t (and probably don’t care to) understand.
Moving on, there are options for us veggies. Cheeses made with microbial enzymes, sometimes referred to as vegetable rennet, are the solution. It’s extracted from the growth of certain molds. Mozzarella, a great number of Cheddars, a lot of English cheeses for that matter (like Red Leicester, Stilton) are veggie-friendly. The label should guide you. If in doubt, go to your local cheesemonger and ask. The one to which I go often looks at me weird or as a bit of a nuisance but the more people ask for this, the more they’ll get used to it.