Are you a vegetarian who loves blue cheese?
If so, you may be wondering if your favorite cheese is actually vegetarian-friendly.
The answer is not as straightforward as you might think.
While some blue cheeses are made with vegetarian-friendly rennet, others are made with animal rennet, making them unsuitable for vegetarians.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of blue cheese and help you navigate which types are safe for vegetarians to enjoy.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the delicious world of blue cheese!
Is Blue Cheese Vegetarian?
The short answer is that it depends on the type of blue cheese.
Some blue cheeses, like Stilton, are almost always vegetarian-friendly. However, there are a few dairies that produce a “traditional rennet” version of Stilton, which is not suitable for vegetarians.
On the other hand, popular European blues like Roquefort and Gorgonzola are typically made with animal rennet, making them unsuitable for vegetarians.
But don’t worry, there are alternatives! Italian Dolcelatte is a great veggie alternative to both Roquefort and Gorgonzola, with the same mild and creamy properties.
If you’re looking for an all-British board, Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale are all multi-award-winning cheeses made in the UK that are suitable for vegetarians.
It’s important to note that Parmesan cheese is never vegetarian due to the use of animal rennet. Cheeses from specific locations, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, must follow a consistent recipe to be recognized as having specific names. This means always using animal rennet.
What Is Blue Cheese?
Blue cheese is a type of cheese that is made using cultures of Penicillium, a type of mold. This mold gives the cheese its signature blue and green veins or marbling, as well as its distinct taste and smell. Blue cheese is typically made from cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk and is ripened with cultures of the mold Penicillium.
During the cheesemaking process, the mold is added after the curds have been drained and rolled into wheels. The blue cheese is then left to age for 2-3 months before it’s ready to enjoy. Blue cheese can be eaten by itself or can be spread, crumbled, or melted into or over many other foods.
Blue cheese is generally salty and has a sharp flavor, along with a pungent aroma. It is often relatively low in fat but has a high sodium content. Blue cheese is also a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorous.
It’s important to note that not all blue cheeses are suitable for vegetarians, as some are made with animal rennet. While cheeses like Stilton are usually vegetarian-friendly, popular European blues like Roquefort and Gorgonzola are typically made with animal rennet, making them unsuitable for vegetarians. However, there are alternatives available such as Italian Dolcelatte or multi-award-winning British cheeses like Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale that are suitable for vegetarians.
How Is Blue Cheese Made?
Blue cheese is made using cultures of the mold Penicillium. The cheesemaking process begins with adding rennet to the milk to coagulate it, and then cutting the curds to release the whey. As the curds are formed into wheels, Penicillium roqueforti mold is added to the cheese before it is left to age for 60 to 90 days.
During the aging process, the cheese is pierced with stainless steel needles, which allows oxygen to get inside the cheese and helps the blue mold develop properly. The size and quantity of needles and the amount of piercing will determine whether the cheese will be more or less oxygenated, and therefore the amount of blueing.
The result is a semi-soft cheese with a sharp, salty flavor and a pungent aroma. Blue cheese generally has spots or veins throughout the cheese in shades of blue or green, giving it its distinct appearance. It can be eaten by itself or can be spread, crumbled, or melted into or over many other foods.
It’s important to note that some blue cheeses are made with animal rennet, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. However, there are vegetarian-friendly alternatives like Italian Dolcelatte and British cheeses like Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale.
What Is Rennet And Why Does It Matter?
Rennet is an enzyme used in the cheesemaking process to coagulate or thicken milk, causing curds to form. Traditionally, rennet was extracted from the stomach lining of a calf, ewe, or baby goat, making it unsuitable for strict vegetarians. However, there are now three other sources of rennet: plant-based, microbial, and genetically engineered or fermentation produced rennet.
Plant-based rennet is acceptable for vegetarians but is not widely used. Cardoon thistle is often used in place of plant-based rennet to coagulate milk, particularly in Spanish and Portuguese cheeses. Microbial rennet is not commonly used in cheesemaking due to its unpredictable nature and the possibility of producing unwanted flavors like bitterness. Genetically engineered or fermentation produced rennet is considered okay by some vegetarians but not by others since it originates from the cell of an animal.
Unfortunately, the FDA does not require cheesemakers to specify what type of rennet they use, making it challenging for vegetarians to know which cheeses are safe to eat. However, many cheesemakers who use plant-based rennet choose to share this information, so it’s always worth asking your local cheesemonger.
It’s also essential to read labels carefully before purchasing cheese since animal rennet can be listed as a processing agent and not required to be explicitly stated on the label. Some cheeses that traditionally use animal rennet include Parmesan, gorgonzola, pecorino romano, Camembert, Emmenthaler, manchego, and Gruyère.
Vegetarian-Friendly Blue Cheeses
If you’re a vegetarian who loves blue cheese, don’t worry – there are plenty of options out there for you to enjoy! Here are some vegetarian-friendly blue cheeses to try:
1. Dolcelatte: This Italian cheese is a great alternative to Roquefort and Gorgonzola, with a mild and creamy flavor.
2. Cashel Blue: Made in Ireland, this cheese has a tangy and slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with fruit and nuts.
3. Dorset Blue Vinny: This traditional English cheese has a crumbly texture and a sharp, salty flavor.
4. Beauvale: Another English cheese, Beauvale is made with Stilton cultures and has a rich, buttery flavor.
5. Beenleigh Blue: Made in England, this cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a tangy, slightly nutty flavor.
6. Buttermilk Bleu: This American cheese has a creamy texture and a mild, tangy flavor.
7. Great Hill Blue: Made in Massachusetts, this cheese has a tangy and slightly sweet flavor with notes of butterscotch.
8. Hubbardston Blue: Another Massachusetts cheese, Hubbardston Blue is made from goat’s milk and has a tangy and slightly sweet flavor.
9. Ewes Blue: Made in New York, this cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a creamy texture and a tangy, slightly sweet flavor.
10. Oregon Blue Vein/Rogue River Blue/Smokey Blue/Oregonzola: Made in Oregon, these cheeses are all vegetarian-friendly and have unique flavors ranging from smoky to nutty to sweet.
So next time you’re craving blue cheese, try one of these vegetarian-friendly options instead!
Non-Vegetarian Blue Cheeses
Unfortunately, not all blue cheeses are suitable for vegetarians. Roquefort and Gorgonzola, two popular European blues, are typically made with animal rennet, making them non-vegetarian.
It’s important to read the labels carefully to determine if a blue cheese is vegetarian-friendly or not. Some dairies produce a “traditional rennet” version of Stilton, which is not suitable for vegetarians.
If you’re a vegetarian looking for a blue cheese substitute, Italian Dolcelatte is a great option with the same mild and creamy properties as Roquefort and Gorgonzola. Additionally, some British-made blue cheeses like Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale are all suitable for vegetarians.
Alternatives To Blue Cheese For Vegetarians
If you’re a vegetarian and looking for alternatives to blue cheese, there are plenty of options available.
One option is vegan blue cheese, which is typically made with cashews or tofu for creaminess and spirulina for color. These vegan blue cheeses are delicious and come in a variety of flavors that are sure to satisfy your cravings.
Another option is to try creamy, tangy cheeses that are similar to blue cheese but made without animal rennet. Italian Dolcelatte is a great substitute for Gorgonzola, while Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale are all multi-award-winning cheeses made in the UK that are suitable for vegetarians.
It’s important to check the label when buying cheese to ensure that it is vegetarian-friendly. Cheeses from specific locations, like Parmesan or Roquefort, typically use animal rennet and are not suitable for vegetarians. However, there are plenty of other delicious options available that you can enjoy guilt-free.