Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Miceli's cheese

First, background on vegetarian/kosher cheese:

If you eat kosher food or vegetarian food but like cheese, you are probably aware that buying it is a daunting research project.  Cheese companies do not often label whether or not their cheeses are vegetarian or not.  There are also companies who will label some cheeses but not all.

The reason cheese is not always vegetarian is because of a product called rennet.  This originally came from the stomach of calves, which has a certain bacteria that adult cows lacked.  This bacteria allows the calves to break down their mother's milk.  Nowadays the bacteria itself can be made in a lab or with plants of some sort (I am not sure on the process, sorry!) and there is no taste difference.  Seriously, if the cheese isn't labeled, there isn't any way to tell the difference.

The bacterial ingredient in cheese is listed as either 'enzymes' or rennet.  If a manufacturer wants to denote whether the bacteria are non-animal, they can put microbial enzymes or microbial rennet on the label.  If a label has a kosher symbol, that also denotes vegetarian friendly cheese, because Jewish dietary restrictions insist on no mixing of meat and dairy.  If there is nothing on the label, the manufacturer usually has a 1-800 number that can be called.  Unfortunately, many employees have no idea about the rennet and are surprised by the question.

Now the story:

I received two balls of Miceli's mozzarella cheese.  Balls of mozzarella are exciting and round and delicious.  I loves me some mozzarella.  These mozzarellas were not labeled, however, so I found the number for the manufacturer and called them.  The person who answered the phone was friendly and courteous, but couldn't answer my question when I asked what type of rennet they used.  I expected to have to give the cheese away, but then she said she'd put me on the line with Mr. Miceli.

I got to talk to a person at the head of the company!  He said he would have to call me back about it after asking some other people in his company.  And he called back!  And it was microbial rennet!  Yay!

In short, I think Miceli's is an awesome company.  I only wish that I had more reasons to call.  Because that was just cool.  Also, I may start a cheese crusade, calling companies and asking them to label whether their cheese is vegetarian friendly or not.

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