Is Cheese Vegetarian?

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but . . .

There are a number of valid reasons you decided to go vegetarian: You wanted to reduce your carbon footprint, the flavor of steak just never appealed to you or perhaps going meat free stemmed from an ethical decision. No matter your reasoning for skipping the butcher counter all these years, there's a good chance that rich, savory cheese has been either the one saving grace keeping you from (drunkenly) ordering late-night chicken tenders or the vice stopping you from going full vegan. Unfortunately, we have some bad news about this beloved food group. (You might want to sit down for this.)

Not all cheese is vegetarian.

This may not be news to everyone, but if you've been living a lie, we're sorry we had to tell you like this.

The culprit is rennet, the enzyme that causes milk to coagulate and consequently separate into curds and whey. (We hope you're still sitting down.) It's derived from the stomachs of animals.

And you can't make certain cheeses without it. For example, Parmigiano-Reggiano—you know, the cheese you like to grate onto your spaghetti with reckless abandon—must be made using rennet to be deemed authentic. That's just the beginning. As The Huffington Post notes, there's also a whole cheese board of other favorites that involve rennet in their production, including nutty Gruyère, funky Gorgonzola and Swiss favorite Emmenthaler.

If you're reading this and are considering relabeling yourself as a flexitarian, don't despair: Many creameries and cheese makers offer rennet-free variants of popular cheeses or use animal-free enzymes derived from other sources, like bacteria and microbes. Certain cheese varieties, such as paneer and American cheddars, are also naturally rennet free (and don't forget about the surprisingly delicious vegan cult favorite, nutritional yeast).

Now that you've soaked in this information, it may or may not also be the best time to learn about how they make Jell-O.