What is the Best Type of Cheese to Buy?

Madeline: Posted 09/12/2014

When you are shopping for cheese, it is important that you understand the cheese-making process in order to avoid certain factors that could be harmful to your health. There are several factors that many people look for, including the source of the milk and whether the animal was fed an organic or non-organic diet. But, did you realize that there is one more factor that needs to be considered? It is also important that you research the enzymes that were used to produce the cheese.

Why “Organic” and “Grass-Fed” Matters

Why does it matter if you buy conventional cheese, or grass-fed and organic cheese? When you look at the way the animals were raised, you will see a drastic difference in the quality of milk that is produced. Factory-farmed cows are raised in cramped spaces that are filled with disease and illness. They don’t have the opportunity to graze in the pasture, and they are usually fed GMO corn. When they are living in these conditions, they produce unhealthy milk that is sold in our grocery stores.

On the other hand, a cow that is raised in a pasture grazing year-round rather than being fed a processed GMO diet is healthier, and produces a higher quality milk product. In fact, it is has been found that there are differences in the nutritional profile of milk from a grass-fed cow compared with milk from a factory-farmed cow. Grass-fed always has higher levels of the important vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimal health. Whole milk grass-fed cheeses provide measurable amounts of four fat key fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K. They also provide antioxidant nutrients, like selenium, zinc, and beta-carotene as well as all B-complex vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, choline, and biotin.

Whole milk grass-fed cheeses also provide beneficial fats, like omega3s and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as well as a health-promoting ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fat (2:1). It’s one of the few foods that contain a perfect balance. By contrast, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grain-fed milk is heavily weighted on the side of omega-6 fats (25:1). Grass-fed dairy combats inflammation in your body, whereas GMO diary contributes to it. Grass-fed cheeses contain five times more CLA than dairy from grain-fed cows. Want to increase your intake on CLA? Eat the meat and dairy of grass-fed animals.  Always choose grass-fed, organic milk and dairy products whenever possible from your local farmer. If you can’t source grass-fed cheese from your farmer, always choose organic and read the ingredients on the product.

What are Rennet/Enzymes and How are They Used?

So, in addition to understanding the milk source, it is also important that you learn about the type of rennet that was used to make the cheese. According to Wikipedia, it broadly refers to the active enzyme in rennet called chymosin or rennin, but there are also other important enzymes in it, such as pepsin and lipase. “Rennet” is an enzyme often used to help trigger coagulation of casein proteins in milk and the formation of cheese curds. It separates the curds and whey after the starter culture is added to the milk. There are currently four major types of rennet: calf rennet, FPC, microbial rennet, and vegetable rennet.  Traditionally, rennet is defined as the inner lining of the fourth stomach of baby calves, lambs, and goats used in cheese making to curdle milk.  In Europe, cheese has been manufactured using animal rennet for thousands of years.

When calf rennet became scarce in the 1960s and 70s as the veal industry was declining due to the animal rights movement but demand for cheese increased, calf rennet became very expensive. Companies then began to look for a “rennet substitute”.

Let’s fast forward to 1990, shall we.. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Fermentation Produced Chymosin (FPC) in food. This was the first time a bioengineered product was permitted in food in the US. Are you following?  In essence, a GMO rennet was created to be used as an alternative. However, the FDA observes no standard use of the terms “GMO product” or “non-GMO product”. The assertion that chymosin is non-GMO is not accurate according to some groups. The Non-GMO Project finds chymosin to be a “high risk ingredient.” The Non-GMO Project and National Organic Program (NOP) do not allow for bioengineered chymosin in their cheese products. As a consumer, you should know that since 2012, between 80-90% of all US cheese is made from FPC, a product of animal gene splicing. There is a 2nd generation FPC developed using a camel gene. According to the company, CHR Hansen, this type of FPC coagulates milk five times faster than first generation FPCs and 25 times faster than microbial rennets. Do you want to eat cheese from a camel gene? I sure don’t!

Microbial rennet sources are grown in a lab setting from microorganisms, and they are produced using specific types of yeast, fungus or mold.  Although, you should know, there is no mold in it. This coagulant is considered vegetarian friendly as the enzyme produced by the organism is not derived from an animal. It’s also less expensive than animal rennet. These enzymes can be just as effective to help the milk curdle to create the cheese, without risking the addition of GMO enzymes.

Vegetable rennet can be made from a variety of plant sources, including genetically modified soybeans, which produce certain enzymes that have coagulating properties. In the states, commercially produced vegetable rennet is hard if not impossible to source.

A modern way to get animal rennet involves deep frozen stomachs, enzyme-extracting solutions, and stomach acid.  Its composition is 85% chymosin and 15% bovine pepsin. However, there are also traces of Sodium Benzoate, Caramel Color, Propylene Glycol, and Potassium Sorbate when produced this way. About 5% of cheese makers use this type of rennet. I wonder how many really know that these additives are found in the rennet they use.  Would they still use it if they didn’t know? A lot of negative talk is centered around Sodium Benzoate and Propylene Glycol in foods.

Buying & Choosing the Best Kind of Cheese

When shopping for cheese, look for grass-fed, organic cheese. Companies are not legally required to disclose the source of their rennet, so unless the product specifically states a non-animal source for rennet, you really won’t know. Ingredient labels do not distinguish between FPC “microbial rennet” and the “microbial rennet” composed of an enzyme/enzyme mix without any gene technology or with non-animal recombinant gene technology.  If you are looking for a true source of non-GMO cheese, then it is best to find a cheese source that doesn’t use animal-derived rennet. Make sure that the cheese package specifically states that it is Organic. Read the ingredients. Always!

So, now.. What is the best cheese to eat as far as nutrition goes? Dr. Rheamue-Bleue , a doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and a leading health expert in Canada, states the cheeses highest in K2 are Gouda and Brie, which contain about 75 mcg per ounce. They also tend to be the highest in protein and calcium, so the most nutritious overall. Some other cheeses with lesser, but significant, levels of K2 are Cheddar, Colby, hard goat cheese, Swiss, and Gruyere.

Listen and watch..Grass-Fed vs. Farming

If you live on Long Island, NY, click HERE for information on a pasture-raised farm that I trust and buy from. There are various drop-off locations throughout the island.

If not, here are some great websites that can help you find pasture-based farms in your area:

Once on either site, you will find a map of the US which will allow you to click on your state and find pasture-based farms that are local to you.  Good luck!



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