Halal cheese is a cheese that has been created using ingredients that are in accordance with the Islamic laws pertaining to food. There is one specific ingredient used in the production of cheese that has the potential to make it non-halal, also called haram, meaning forbidden. This ingredient is rennet and it is largely gathered from animals. The type of animal and the method by which it was slaughtered might be unknown, so the rennet could be haram and make the cheese haram. There are commercial brands of cheese that have been certified as halal, and nearly all vegetarian cheeses are halal, because they do not use any products from slaughtered animals.
Rennet is an enzyme that is essential in most cheese-making processes. It is largely acquired from the stomachs of adolescent cows, although it also is present in other animals. The problem with creating a halal cheese that uses rennet is that the source of the enzyme might be unknown. The animal might not have been slaughtered by a Muslim in a way that follows halal guidelines, and the animal from which the rennet is drawn might not even be a cow. This means the ingredient could be forbidden and, through its inclusion in milk to separate the curds and whey, would render the cheese haram.
There is actually a difference in opinion among various Islamic scholars and sects as to whether all cheeses made with animal rennet are halal or haram. It is clear that rennet from the stomach of a pig would be haram, no matter what, but the issue becomes more complex outside that clear situation. One argument that is made for halal cheese that uses animal rennet is that, because the rennet is essentially gone from the milk after it has separated into curds and whey, the final cheese is halal. Another argument points to a verse in the Quran in which the Prophet Muhammad asks for and is served cheese, which some scholars interpret as meaning it is halal. Some Muslims eat any cheese that is available, while others avoid it completely.
There is halal cheese available commercially that has been certified as using only permitted ingredients. These types of halal cheese use microbial enzymes or plant-based enzymes to separate the milk. Vegetarian cheese also is halal, because it will not contain any animal rennet. In some situations, depending on the ingredients listed on the label, kosher cheese also may be halal.
Is Parmesan Cheese Halal?
For Parmesan cheese to be specifically labeled Parmesan, it has to be made from the traditional cheese-making process, ingredients, and methods. Part of those traditional processes includes the use of rennet. Rennet is an integral ingredient in making Parmesan because it separates the milk into whey and curds, readying the dairy for aging.
The rennet in traditional Parmesan Reggiano and many other kinds of cheese comes from animals. If you see rennet as an ingredient, it is safe to say that it might not be halal. The animal that the rennet comes from for this specific cheese is the cow. Other cheeses contain animal rennet and animal feed byproducts that might have pork. More specifically, for Parmesan, the rennet comes from the lining of the fourth stomach of unweaned calves that are slaughtered for veal production. Some rennet comes from lambs or goat kids too.
Vegetarians, who often consume cheese as part of their mixed diet, do not eat Parmesan though dairy is acceptable for most vegetarians. The unethical practice of veal production is enough for them to steer clear of Parmesan’s traditional production involving the rennet from calves meant for veal slaughter. However, several Parmesan-style vegetarian hard kinds of cheese do not contain animal rennet in the making or aging of the product. Checking for a (V) or a (v) on the packaging will help identify if the product is vegetarian, which frequently means it is halal, too.
Is Cheddar Cheese Halal?
Unfortunately, much like the conundrum with Parmesan versus hard-style cheeses, being vigilant in ingredient and label checking is still a thing for Muslims worldwide. In many countries, more and more labels feature information about whether or not the item is halal right on the packaging. If you see the (v) for vegetarian, there is also a good chance the product is safe but watch out for alcohol-based ingredients. Sometimes, kosher (K) or (U) ingredients can also cross over and also be halal. The best approach is to check ingredients and if there are unknown origins, leave the product for another time after having had time to research.
Some cheddar cheeses are halal. The brand Tillamook currently has a kosher medium cheddar cheese that is halal, and Cabot Creamery has a sharp cheddar offering that is presently halal. Time markers are applied to both product offerings because ingredients, recipes, and products change frequently. Rather than assume that the manufacturer will keep you abreast of any ingredient changes, it would be best if you stayed on top of the product by quickly scanning ingredients to be sure each time. Scanning labels can be a pain but will grow faster with practice.
Many other products from the same brands are not halal, which is a secondary problem for some Muslims. It is challenging to separate practices from products from the same company. Is it truly a halal purchase if a company manufactures predominantly haram products but includes a few halal products? This argument is frequently debated.
Is American Cheese Halal?
Similar pretenses exist for the investigation and qualification of American cheese as a halal option. There are problems with finding consistency in ingredients, company-wide practices and manufacturing, and finding out what American cheese actually is.
American cheese is generally listed as either a processed cheese made from milk products and other ingredients or a mix of cheese products to form the amalgamate of American cheese. American cheese is also classified as a processed cheese product made from a blend of milk solids, milk fats, other fats, and whey protein concentrates.
With such a vague definition, it can be challenging to determine where the other fats or whey proteins come from initially. Some brands of American cheese and singles claim that their brands of American cheeses are undoubtedly halal. The best practice would be to check for yourself and then decide whether or not to support a company that makes other haram items and profits from them regularly.
Is There a Halal Cheese Checklist?
Determining whether or not the cheese you want to buy is halal is more than just checking off a list; it can be a very tricky process. While many dairy ingredients come from animals that Muslims can eat, the slaughter may not be under sharia law, making them haram, not halal.
Further, some American cheese products can contain gelatin which has pork as an ingredient. Chemicals and hormones sometimes used in dairy farming are also considered haram, so look for information on those practices. A final consideration is whether or not it is halal to support a company that makes a profit from the other haram products it sells.