Is cheese suitable for vegetarians?

Is cheese suitable for vegetarians? I always thought it was and I’d assume most of us would say ‘yes’.

Cheese is a popular ingredient for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. In restaurants and shops vegetarian options often contain cheese. Therefore why are some cheeses labelled ‘suitable for vegetarians’ and some are not? I wanted to find the answer…Image result for vegetarian labeling uk

The truth is that lot of cheeses aren’t vegetarian. The majority of cheese contain Rennet. It is used to curdle the casein in milk to make cheese firm. Rennet is obtained from the fourth stomach of an unweaned calf, kid goat or lamb after slaughter. Rennet is complex set of enzymes that helps young mammals digest their mothers’ milk. Each species has specific enzymes see:

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So what does this mean for vegetarians, Hindus or people that prefer not to eat stomach? The good news is that there is also non-animal derived rennet. These are either vegetable, microbial or fermentation produced chymosin that is widely used in modern industrial cheese making as it is cheaper than animal rennet.



Here is our guide to buying cheese. When buying cheese how do we know if a cheese contains animal-rennet or not? Check the label and ask the question. If it doesn’t state that is it suitable for vegetarians it can be difficult to determine if it does or doesn’t contain animal-rennet as it is often not listed in the ingredients, it is safer to assume it does.

The type of cheese should also be considered. Traditional European and Old-World style cheeses often use animal-rennet. For cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano that are D.O. (designation of origin) protected, cheese-makers have to use an exact method and exact ingredients in order to legally be called by that name.

Here is a list of cheese types that are always or often contain animal-rennet:

  • Parmigiano Reggiano / parmesan
  • Gruyere
  • Manchego
  • Emmental
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Gorgonzola
  • Grana Padano
  • Camembert
  • Brie

Image result for cheeseI did a quick review using the Waitrose website to determine the use of animal rennet giving the number of the total and percentage that are suitable for vegetarians by type:

  • Cheddar –  46 out of 64, 72%
  • Artisan (Waitrose 1) – 12 out of 42, 28%
  • Brie and Camembert – 3 of 13, 23%
  • Soft and cottage – 44 of 48, 91%
  • Blue Cheese – 6 of 23, 26%
  • Parmesan and pecorino – 1 of 16, 0.06%
  • Mozzarella and ricotta – 18 of 19, 95%

Where do the calves, kid goats and lambs come from? Due to the fact they have to be slaughter before they are weaned the animals that are used to create the animal rennet are very young. It might seem that this is a wasteful extravagance to slaughter very young animals just for part of their 4th stomach. The irony is there is a plentiful supply of very young animal for this purpose due to the dairy industry itself. To keep a plentiful supply of milk for humans to consume, mothers give birth on a constant cycle, the baby is taken from the mothers hours or days after birth. The babies are considered a by-product of the dairy industry, the females often raised as next generation dairy herd, the males raised for veal, spring lamb, or immediately slaughter. Whether considering cheese, milk, cream, butter or yogurt, this is the reality of dairy.

Parting thoughts. So what’s the big deal? It might seem that this is an article for vegetarians, maybe only ‘strict’ vegetarians that choose not to eat produce that contains dead animals, but this issue should raise wider questions for us all to consider.

  • We can all gain from learning what is in our food and not making assumptions.
  • We should consider the reality of the diary industry and the not so ‘white’ reputation that is portrayed.
  • Think about wider dietary topics; for example what is Casein and why is there a need for an enzyme to break down protein that is specific to each species?

Unexpectedly the main impact of researching this topic has made me realise that dairy is intended for babies and more over babies of another species. We are the only species that consumes dairy after we are weaned. Now I think about that it raises more questions about why we eat what we eat and whether it is right (watch this space – I’ve found some very interesting literature on lactose intolerance, type 1 diabetes, breast cancer and more).

Enjoy cheese as a treat knowing the chooses you are making. Health wise we often eat too much cheese so use this as an excuse to cut down or give it up. Check the labels for the Vegetarian logo. Source organic produce (as the highest ethical standards). Take care on the cheese front next time you are cooking for your veggie friends!

Say cheese! The Ethical Omnivore.


Happy cows – spring is coming

The best and healthiest milk comes from traditionally farmed cows that live in fields, eating grass. Watch this clip of cows being turned out onto the pasture after spending winter indoors. It says it all.

Sadly not all cows enjoy the sun on their backs or lush grass under their hooves. US style mega ‘zero grazing’ dairies have been introduced into the UK. Behind the innocent looking white stuff that ends up on the supermarket shelves, there is a mega industry under huge pressure to produce more for less. Zero grazing dairies means that cows are kept indoor for the whole of their adult lives in concrete and steel pens. It is all about production, 24/7. In the UK approximately 20% of milk production is now from mega dairies and that is on the increase.

Cows are ruminants, they are designed to graze pasture, kept as part of a rotational, traditional farming system, dairy is healthier, sustainable and has low environmental impact. A diet based on grass results in cow’s milk that’s higher in an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that reduces inflammation in the body and has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Grass-fed milk has double the omega-3 fat content as conventional milk. Changing that to keep cows indoors creates huge welfare and environmental issues. All for the sake of making more profit and saving you a few pence.

Milk is cheap, even the highest quality milk is affordable, it is not a luxury item or an item we should be undermining to save pennies. It is estimated that moving to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 per week.

It is clear that we should buy milk with caution but it is wise to know the facts. It is very easy to a condemn a whole industry whenever there is bad press and the dairy industry has had it’s fair share. 66% of dairy farmers have gone out of business over the last 20 years and we are loosing around 1 traditional farm per week. Dairy farmers are under huge pressures and we need to support those that are fighting to maintain high standards at affordable prices. Not all milk and dairy is the same, there are vast differences in production yet small difference is price for the superior version so it is well worth investing in quality dairy.

How can you compare and buy ‘free range’ milk

Buying organic milk and dairy is the easiest way to ensure grass fed, free range milk. There are various organic standards in the UK but all of them include grazing access. e.g. Duchy, supermarket own brands, Yeo Valley, Moo and smaller independent organic farmers, sold directly or via retailers.

Free range milk is also now widely available, looks out for this Free range dairy logo at Asda, Morrisons, Booths and some Co-op stores. As consumer awareness increases, the industry responds with labelling to help you differentiate between products. The concept of labelling ‘free range’ milk has now been introduced. Free range dairy used to be normal, so it is not a new product, but the need to label it as such is. See for more information.

Waitrose has a ‘grass promise’ on their own brand essential milk but it is the same price per litre as Tesco and Sainsbury own brand, so a great choice if you are budget conscious.

There are also high end milk producers that make the cream of the crop, literally! Worth a look even just for interest to compare against the industry. A raw milk microdairy Unhomogenised guernsey milk from Able and Cole

We are lucky in the UK compared with other EU nations and countries worldwide that we still have a large amount of traditional dairies, where cows get access to grazing, but this is rapidly declining. Unless the label states organic, free range, grass promise or you can trace the milk to a specific dairy or corporative that has a policy to give cows access to pasture there is a real possibility your milk or diary has come from an intensive dairy system.

Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter

Labelling on dairy other than milk has not caught up in terms of free range or grass promise. The industry focus in on milk. For example I contacted Waitrose to ask if they grass promise extended to cheese and butter and their response was no. They did not have a direct relationship with the farmers so where unable to guarantee it was produced from pasture feed dairy cows.

Buying organic cheese, yogurt and butter is a guaranteed way to ensure the diary is free range. Some producers will label the product as such but you’ll need to read the label carefully.

Imported cheese from outside the UK is likely to come from zero grazing dairies. Italy, Spain, France, Germany etc. all have a very high ratio of non grazing dairies. Even high end, luxury cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano = no grass. So read the labels and ask questions.

Parting thoughts, dairy and specifically milk is considered an essential item, but it is not a necessary part of our diet for calcium, that is a myth, see Consume dairy because you really enjoy it, look for organic, free range, traditional, high quality milk, ice cream, cheese, butter and yogurt and thus enjoy it even more!

Alternative plant based milk, yogurt, ice-cream and cream (I am not convinced about cheese) are readily available and on the increase see this post for ideas

Moo to you too, the Ethical omnivore.














Organic milk and dairy – why?

‘If there is one organic product you should buy, it is dairy’. Not all milk is created equal.

There is a lot of variation in the way milk is produced and a lot of negative press coverage about dairy farming. The life of a dairy farmer is very tough and more so during recent years, due to a global excess of milk supplies, super market price wars and increased livestock animal feed prices. Our part as the consumer is to recognise good farming practices and support those farmers to protect our dairy industry. In this post I focus on organic dairy specifically. Buying organic milk is the easiest way to be sure that you are buying a higher standard of milk.

Let’s be honest milk is cheap, in most cases too cheap, it is a product we should value more. Organic milk is much better value when considering the quality of the product and cheaper than a lot of bottled water! At around £0.81 per litre (based on 4 pints).

Organic milk accounts for around 5% of all milk sold in the UK with 1 in 4 homes buying some organic. All large supermarkets offer an organic milk option. Switching to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 a week.

Remember dairy is all products made from milk; cheese, butter, yogurt etc. The same applies choose organic. The same also applies to goats and sheeps milk, it is all mass produced.

Organic dairy is the premium standard, with farmers commiting to follow and be inspected according to strict guidelines concerning all aspects of production. Think of it as a guaranteed standard. There are several different organic standards in the UK but all fall under EU organic standards as a minimum. In this post information is from the organic standard set by the Soil association.

What makes organic different? 

  • Free range – By law, cows must be at pasture whenever conditions allow, over 200 days on average
  • Fewer pesticides & no artificial fertilisers used on pasture
  • Cows fed a grass-rich, GM free diet (minimum 60% grass-based)
  • Routine antibiotic usage banned
  • More consideration for the calf, to create milk a cow has a calf once a year. 
  • Highest levels of nutrients, e.g. Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Higher wildlife benefits
  • Average yields in organic milk production are around 20% less than in intensive production. A more natural rate of milk production. A system designed not to push the cow to their milk producing limits
  • Cows get more time in a natural environment, outdoors, eating grass

The differences in more detail:

Truly free range, organic cows spend much of their lives outdoors where they can graze naturally on a diet of grass and clover. On average, organic cows spend, 215 days per year outside, which is more time outdoors grazing than the average amount of time spent outdoor grazing by ‘free-range’ cows.

Keeping cows indoors all their lives, is banned under organic standards. When they go indoors because of bad weather, all cows must be housed in well-bedded spacious yards.

Organic through and through, organic dairy cows eat a 100% organic diet. Soil Association farmers must always feed their cattle at least 60% fresh or dried fodder, roughage or silage on a daily basis. Most non-organic British chickens, pigs and cows are fed with imported GM crops. GM animal feed is banned under organic standards.

No routine use of antibiotics, Use of antibiotics remains more than twice as high in animals as humans. Soil Association standards ban the routine use of antibiotics and organic, free-range systems encourage healthy animals avoiding the preventative use of antibiotics. The use of growth hormones to increase milk production is banned in the European Union, and organic farmers are permitted only to treat animals with antibiotics when they are actually sick, not as a routine, preventative measure. We also know that high welfare, pasture based systems have reduced rates of infection and so less need for antibiotics in the first place.

A better life from birth Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born male calves.

Dairy calves There are some practices that are inherent aspects of dairy farming. For instance, while under normal circumstances a calf would never be removed from its mother immediately after it is born, it is true that calves and cows are separated. This is normal practice across the dairy industry in order that milk is available for us to drink.

Organic dairy calves are always kept in groups after their first week, outside when conditions allow and always with good housing and bedding. Organic farmers are permitted to house calves individually for the first seven days, provided they are able to see and hear other calves. Contented, healthy calves need companions, a healthy environment and plenty of milk, and our standards guarantee that these needs are met. Organic farmers feed their calves plenty of organic milk – preferably from their mothers – or use ‘nanny cows’ to suckle calves until they are weaned. Soil Association standards prohibit farmers from weaning calves until they are at least 12 weeks old.

Dairy farmers are often faced with a dilemma about what to do with male calves, as they cannot be used for milk production. Some dairy breeds, such as British Friesians, can also produce meat, which means that they can be reared for beef production.

Unfortunately, killing male dairy cows is something that happens on both organic and non-organic dairy farms, but it raises difficult ethical concerns. The Soil Association has long discouraged this practice, and we want to see an end to the unnecessary slaughter of male dairy calves.

CIWF have a very good page about buying dairy –

Parting thoughts – regardless of the dairy you choose there are a few important things everyone should know and think about:

  1. Drinking milk is not natural or necessary. We don’t need to drink milk or give milk to our children for health reasons. See Milk is naturally intended for babies, human milk for baby humans and cows milk for baby calves. All of us are weaned from milk when we can digest solid food.
  2. For humans to consume another animals milk in most cases cows, the cow has to have a calf. This calf becomes a byproduct.
  3. A dairy cow has a calf a year, her gestation period is 283 days, meaning that she is pregnant 78% of her adult life, and milked whilst she is pregnant. At the rate cows are milked in modern systems, this is considered equivalent to running a marathon on a daily basis.
  4. There are currently three main methods of milk production; organic, free range and intensive (mega or zero grazing dairies). Free range milk labelling is on the increase so consumers will have further choice. I will write a separate post on this.
  5. Good alternative dairy products are available, for example read and











Wow no cow – and still a frothy coffee!

Being an ethical omnivore or ethivore means having choice. Choose grass fed or organic dairy or a dairy alternative, your choice. One problem, Mr Ethivore (Booba) loves his coffee, he researches the best beans, he grinds them, he spends half and hour working his noisy coffee machine, froths the milk and sits at the table looking lovingly and proudly at his coffee masterpiece. The idea that I was going to disrupt this ritual and introduce a milk alternative – no way!

I love a challenge so let the challenge commence, could we find a milk alternative that tasted good, was healthy and most importantly would keep Booba in the frothy coffee he had become accustomed?

We decided a tasting session was needed. I ordered a variety of the main milk alternatives, including soya, almond, coconut, rice and oat. I am so glad with did this as 4 out of the 5 didn’t work for us, it was the last one we tried that did. If we had tried only one or tried one a week we would have given up the mission and still be drinking dairy milk. It was the oat milk that won the vote in our house from the brand Oatly

I favour the Organic oat drink It is just made with oats, water (and tiny bit of salt). With similar fat content to skimmed milk 0.5%. It tastes great as a straight up drink, on cereal, hot chocolate and tea. Tip for tea, if it splits it is because the water has just boiled, let it cool slightly. And the real test was kids! I served it with their morning cereal and hey presto not even a facial micro movement. The carton was in plain sight, I didn’t hide the fact and not a peep. My opinion is that is tastes nicer than milk, it has a natural sweetness despite having lower sugar content than dairy milk. I’ve been continuing market research (in my kitchen) and found similar responses from everyone.

So what about Booba and the coffee? Well the clever people at Oatly obviously know people that are also passionate about frothy coffee, so they have made a Barista version. They add oil to the stabilise the drink and allow it to froth. It has similar fat content to full milk but has a fraction of the saturated fat. It works great in a ‘normal’ cup of coffee, it adds a rich creamy sweetness, so much so that people say it is the nicest cup of coffee they have had. Most importantly Booba is happy, the coffee ritual continues, followed by the same proud, loving look as he takes his first sip of his frothy coffee.

Another reason to favour the oat milk is because oats are grown on our continent, in our climate making it an environmentally good choice too.

Their a lots of milk alternatives available, the market has taken off massively in recent times. For a good guide try this good blog article if you try one but don’t like it don’t be put off try different products from different brands.

Avoid sweetened versions and check the labels for ingredients and nutritional values. Some alternatives are fortified with calcium, but don’t be restricted by this being your only option. Dairy is not the only source of calcium, far from it. Regardless of whether you drink dairy milk or not you should understand your calcium intake and adjust your diet accordingly, see this post for further information

Parting words, you have choice, you are not restricted to drinking dairy. If you do choose dairy make sure it is organic, see this post Also remember you don’t have to give up dairy in all areas you can drink oat milk but still choose to eat organic cheese for example. There are also great alternatives for ice cream, cream, yogurt. See my recipe for Cashew cream we use it as a replacement for cream is desserts, sour cream in fajitas and chilli, it is 100% hands down our preference to cream.


The EOr with Mr Ethivore



Better than dairy? – try simple cashew nut cream

Is there a good alternative to dairy cream? Simple answer is yes. As part of my research into making plant based, veggie or vegan versions our favourite dishes I wanted to find an alternative to cream and sour cream. I hit the jackpot and found cashew nut cream and I have never looked back. We use it in every instance we would have used dairy cream, in savoury and sweet dishes. It is delicious, super simple and healthier than dairy cream. It is also handy for lactose intolerant folk!

  • Double cream contains: 50% fat, 31% saturated and 1.5% protein.
  • Cashew cream contains: 33% fat, 6% saturated and 15% protein (based on equilivant thickness to double cream)

This is where I believe being open minded and looking at other approaches to food really gives us the best of both worlds. You don’t have to be a vegan to make use of vegan recipes. In fact why consider it vegan at all, it is simply a nut cream and can be part of any diet.

How to make it – Using plain, wholefood cashew nuts, not the salted or roasted version. I buy Tesco or Waitrose organic cashew nuts but non organic works just as well you can also use cashew pieces which are sometimes cheaper.

  1. The quantity of nuts depends how much cream you want to make. 50 grams of nuts makes around 75 grams of cream.
  2. Soak the nuts in cold water for around 2 hrs, (you can leave them for longer). Cover them in water plus some to allow for swelling. They are ready when they have swelled up. If you are in a hurry you can use very hot water and soak for around 30 mins.
  3. Once soaked drain the water and rinse.
  4. Add enough water to just cover the nuts. You can adjust the amount of water depending on the desired thickness of the cream. Remember you can add but you can’t take away.
  5. Add to a blender, the better the blades and power the smoother the cream. I use a Nutraninja  which is the best kitchen gadget we own.
  6. Blend until it is smooth and creamy. 1-2mins. It should not have any bits however small, if it does just keep blending. If it doesn’t go smooth it is because you didn’t soak the nuts for long enough, you added too much water initially or your processor blades are not sharp enough.
  7. Use straight away or store is an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you find it has thickened in the fridge just stir in more water before serving.

We use it in Mexican dishes, to thicken soup, to make a lovely cream curry, instead of yogurt or cream in desserts. I use it just as it comes but you can add flavours if you want to go wild:

Optional savory flavorings:
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Dash paprika
  • Dash onion powder
Optional sweet flavorings:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons minced, fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom

Needing to gain weight is not a problem that most of us have but if that is the case, especially for someone convalescing, it is packed with calories, good fats and protein and can be easily added to smoothies and soaps to increase the calorie count.

You can use raw, shelled sunflower seeds in place of the cashews for a nut-free version. Pine nuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds will all work with the same amount of soaking time.