The Dark Side of Cheese

Last week I heard a piece on NPR about alpine cheese. In particular they were talking about a cheese producer in Vermont who was making Beaufort cheese, which is typically made in France. They also talked to some French cheese makers who said it was getting harder to make their cheese due to global warming. In addition to the pastures growing different types of plants for the cows to eat, the hotter weather has made the cows thirstier, meaning they drink more water, and the milk they produce is less concentrated, requiring more milk to produce the same amount of cheese. Stupid global warming.

Well, that got me hungry for cheese and I thought about cheese all weekend. I found the piece on NPR’s website and started my research on Wikipedia. They talked about different types of cheese and how cheese is made. While reading I found out about “rennet” which makes the milk curdle, the first step in making cheese. I’d never heard of that before. I read about rennet and found out that is derived from the stomach lining of young cows. They need it to curdle their mother’s milk, I guess. Rennet is obtained from the stomachs of baby cows slaughtered to produce veal. And I don’t eat veal. There are rennet alternatives and there is also vegetarian rennet produced from bacteria or something. But some cheeses are required to have rennet in order to be authentic. It was depressing that something I always thought was just dairy, actually was meat-based. And not just meat, but one of the few kinds I won’t eat.

But that didn’t stop me from wanting some cheese. Yesterday I went to the farmer’s market intending to try some Beaufort cheese and see what it was all about. I couldn’t find any of that. But I did find some St. Nectaire from France (a little more firm than brie and containing rennet) and also some Wensleydale cheese from England which I bought primarily because it is a favorite of Wallace and Gromit (contains no rennet). I bought a baguette to put the cheese on. It was good (the Wensleydale was white and had a kind of bad taste, but I sliced off the outer layer which I think had white mold on it and the remaining cheese was much better). I did see a couple of cheese with “non-animal rennet” and of course some that didn’t have rennet at all, so I think I can avoid it if I want.

2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Cheese

  1. I did not know any of this either. Thought making cheese was a variation of making butter.

    I don’t eat veal or lamb. I don’t think eating eggs is a problem because the eggs we eat were never going to be more than a single cell. (Not fertilized.) So they are not really young chickens.

    Now baby penguins are yummy of course.

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