If you have recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, you may be wondering, does feta cheese have rennet?
Why is rennet a problem anyway, where does it come from?
What does rennet actually do in the cheesemaking process?
Is it possible to find vegetarian feta cheese?
Let’s delve into the truth about feta and rennet!
Most feta cheese contains rennet, making it unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans as rennet is derived from a calf’s stomach. Rennet is essential for setting and solidifying feta, as well as enhancing its flavor by coagulating the milk. However, vegetarian feta made with plant-based rennet is available, using ingredients like fig leaves, artichokes, nettles, mold, or bacteria. Acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice can also coagulate the milk for feta production.
Is Feta Cheese Made with Rennet?
If you are vegetarian but still enjoy cheese, you may wish to know, is feta made with rennet?
First of all, let’s talk about rennet and where it comes from.
Rennet is actually an enzyme and is found in the stomach of ruminant animals.
Ruminant means that the mammal has an extra stomach, especially for fermenting plant-based food ready for digestion.
Some examples include cows, goats, and sheep.
Typically, when it comes to cheesemaking, the rennet is taken from the stomach of a calf or a lamb.
So, now you see why the majority of feta cheese is not suitable for vegetarians.
But what does the rennet do anyway, is it really necessary?
The main purpose of rennet is to coagulate the milk to ensure the feta cheese solidifies.
It causes a chemical reaction, which takes the solid particles in milk away from the water.
So, in effect, it creates texture.
Rennet is also said to enhance the flavor of feta cheese but actually doesn’t have any taste until mixed with warm milk.
Cheese manufacturers use rennet in liquid, paste, or tablet form.
So, to answer the initial question, yes, the majority of feta cheese is made with rennet.
But with many people wishing to adopt a healthier, animal-friendly lifestyle, it is now possible to find vegetarian feta.
Can Feta Be Made Without Rennet?
Yes, it is perfectly possible to make feta cheese without rennet, ensuring it is vegetarian.
In fact, you can even find vegan feta cheese made without animal milk.
We have already discussed animal-based rennet, so now let’s look at the plant-based options.
There are several plants that contain the rennet enzyme, and these include artichokes, fig leaves, nettles, and thistles.
However, there are a couple of problems with plant rennet.
The first is that it cannot be stored for very long before it becomes unstable and cannot be used.
This leads to the second issue, that even when the feta cheesemaking process is complete, the rennet still continues to deteriorate.
This leads to an increasingly bitter taste in feta cheese.
Typically, the cheese should not be aged for more than six months before purchase and consumption.
Another method of making feta without rennet is to use an acidic ingredient to coagulate the milk.
Popular options include vinegar or lemon juice.
Some types of bacteria can also be added to the milk to create the same reaction, separating the solids to form the cheese.
How to Know if Feta Cheese Contains Rennet?
Of course, the first place to start is by checking the ingredients.
However, in most countries, it is not a legal requirement to say where the rennet has come from.
So, you would need to look to see if the feta cheese is labeled as vegetarian or vegan.
It could also say non-animal enzymes, cruelty-free, or animal friendly.
In the UK, all vegetarian products have to be clearly marked with a “V” symbol, usually green in color.
You can also look for Kosher feta cheese, as the use of dairy and meat products together is forbidden, so you can rest assured it will be vegetarian.
Different Types of Rennet
The majority of feta cheese is made from animal-sourced rennet.
This makes it unsuitable for vegetarians.
Rennet solidifies the cheese, but it is possible to find plant-based options.
Rennet can be extracted from thistles, nettles, and artichokes, but the feta cheese will have a shorter shelf life.
So, a vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorite cheese!
And if you have chosen a stricter dietary regime, read my articles on whether feta is suitable for vegans.