Much like The Vinegar Page, I have written this one because cheese and dairy products are the source of a lot of questions I get about whether or not some of their ingredients are derived from halal and dhabiha sources. This involves everything from hard cheeses like Parmesan to deli cheeses, sour cream, crème frâiche, buttermilk, regular milk, yogurt, and so on. I hope to address those issues below.
I don’t claim to be a scholar or even a somewhat-expert on this subject, as it is complicated and ever-changing due to the nature of our modern food industry and the amount of food companies as well as how often they may change their formulas for one single product in their line of multiple food products. Wow, that was a mouthful…
So, I simply hope to provide some information here that serves as a starting point for you with links to other reputable and informative sites that are dedicated to the specific issues described. I consider it a working document to be updated as things within the food industry fluctuate and change as time goes on.
The four areas of cheese and dairy products which derive the most questioning are: 1) enzymes; 2) rennet; 3) whey; 4) rind
What are Enzymes and Where Do they Come From?
This link contains an explanation of enzymes, but for the purpose of this page, most of our focus will be on rennet, a type of enzyme from which cheese and dairy products are made.
What is Rennet and Where Does it Come From?
Rennet is a natural enzyme found in the stomach of young mammals which allows them to process their mother’s milk. This natural enzyme also helps to coagulate, or thicken, milk when making cheese.
Other types of coagulants include acids like vinegar or lemon juice, which are commonly used when making ricotta or paneer cheeses.
The active enzyme in rennet is chymosin, or rennin. Additionally, there are other enzymes such as lipase and pepsin.
The reason rennet is used in cheese making is because it speeds up coagulation in the separation of curds and whey after a starter culture has been added to milk.
Read more about rennet here:
In today’s world, we have a few ways to get rennet for cheese-making:
1) Animal (typically a young calf, goat or sheep)
2) Vegetable (from plants such as nettles or thistle);
3) Microbial (from fungi and yeast)
4) Genetically-modified sources
Cost factor for manufacturers, as well as the desire to accommodate consumers with special diets (i.e. vegetarians), are the reasons for their production. Whatever is better for the bottom line of a producer is typically preferred.
Other than animal-derived rennet, microbial rennet is now commonly found in cheese products and is touted as being suitable for vegetarians, thus is often considered a halal source of rennet.
What is Whey and Is it Halal?
Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates from the curds when making cheese. If you’ve ever made homemade yogurt cheese, you’ll know this is something that is drained out of the yogurt so what’s left is a firmer, thicker yogurt ‘cheese’, or spread.
One explanation of the halal factor related to whey is found here: . I welcome other articles so if you find them, please share.
Can We Eat Cheese From Animals Not Slaughtered Properly According to Islamic Ritual (Dhabiha)?
What About the Cheese Rind?
Recently while at a food conference, I happened to be there during a little cheese ensemble where artisanal cheese makers from New York passed out samples of locally-made cheeses and educated us about the way they were made. I was completely startled to find out that some cheese has natural rinds that are created by wiping the surface with of the cheese with lard (pig fat), although it can also be done with olive or vegetable oil, too. I knew that washed rind cheese existed (salted water plus wine or beer) was common, but never realized lard could be there, too. Needless to say, it is definitely something to watch out for when shopping for artisanal cheeses. I wrote about this experience here in this blog post.
If I want to eat halal or at least avoid what is doubtful, which type of cheese should I get?
What I try to do personally is to first support the halal-certified cheese companies (see list below). It not only assures you the company has gone through the proper channels to ensure their product is halal, but it also helps to support the halal industry and keep the manufacturer interested in serving the halal consumer market with this certification.
We all know that not every single type of cheese is halal-certified (yet), so if you can’t find what you’re looking for choose cheeses with vegetarian rennet and microbial enzymes so you aren’t choosing anything with any type of animal products. Next, make sure the rind doesn’t have any lard, wine, beer or other types of alcohol wiped on or bathed in it.
Where Can I Get Halal-Certified Cheese & Dairy Products or Vegetarian Ones?
Cabot (many varieties are halal-certified)
Tillamook– “Most of Tillamook cheeses are made with a vegetable-based rennet that’s kosher-certified, halal-certified, and vegetarian-friendly.”
Some Mexican dairy products are halal certified, too.
What if I Want to Make My Own Cheese & Dairy Products?
Now that’s a great idea! Here are my suggestions and recipes…
Crème Fraiche– it’s so easy you won’t believe you didn’t make it earlier!
Labneh (Yogurt spread)
Other Helpful Links:
The Vegetarian Resource Blog– information on Microbial Rennets and Fermentation
Brief explanations of the various forms of rennet
More Islamic perspectives on rennet and enzymes as it relates to the halal factor of cheese:
Isn’t all Cheese Halal? by IFANCA (Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America)
Got any more information to include? Email contact [at] myhalalkitchen [dot] com