A video making the rounds on the internet has both vegetarians and omnivores wondering, “What’s in Parmesan cheese?” It turns out that some Parmesan brands may not be suitable for meat-free diners, thanks to their inclusion of a stomach-turning ingredient called rennet, which traditionally is made from enzymes taken from the stomach lining of calves. That’s right—Parmesan (as well as some other cheeses such as Gruyère and Gorgonzola) may contain the stomach lining of young cattle who spent the entirety of their short lives in close confinement before being killed for veal.
While not all dairy-based Parmesan cheese has calf rennet (many brands in the U.S. use vegetable rennet in place of animals’ stomach linings), supporting the dairy industry is still bad news for both mother cows and their calves. Cows on dairy farms are repeatedly artificially impregnated (in order to keep their milk flowing) and then traumatically separated from their newborn calves until their bodies finally wear out and they are sent to be killed, too—all so their milk can be sold to humans by the gallon or turned into cheese, butter, or yogurt.
Like many other animals, cows form strong maternal bonds with their calves, and on dairy farms, mother cows can be heard frantically crying out for their calves for several days after they’ve been separated. Whether these calves wind up as rennet in “fancy” cheese or endure the same fate as their mothers—becoming milk machines themselves—they’re denied everything that’s natural and important to them and are killed far short of their natural lifespans. That’s why the only Parmesan (and any other kind of cheese) brands that you should buy are ones labeled “Vegan.”
Check Out Vegan Cheese
Vegan cheesemakers are busy these days, providing the world with delicious, compassionate concoctions—and new brands are popping up all over the place. The availability of new products, along with our favorite vegan cheese staples, makes it an exciting time for conscientious cheese connoisseurs. Try Follow Your Heart and GO VEGGIE, or make your own to ensure that you’re not contributing to the suffering of intelligent and curious cow families.