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“It’s just milk, right?” The response you will get from your non-Muslim friends who probably go for way more cheese fondue parties than you. For vegetarians, who don’t consume meat or are against animal parts being used in the production of food may also want to listen up. The short story is that it’s not just milk. Just like Romeo and Juliet isn’t just a love story, milk isn’t the only ingredient in the most popular cheeses. Making cheese is like a fine art. It is both its process as well as its ingredients. To consider a cheese Halal, we must first highlight the things that are generally Haram to consume in the first place. This includes;
- Pork and pork by-products
- Animal by-products that come from cattle not slaughtered the ‘Halal’ way (Dhabiha)
With these three elements in mind, we can next discuss the ingredients most frequently used in cheeses during the process of cheese-making, all the way from curdling to moulding. The usual list comes to mind, such as milk, salt, acids and living bacteria. One more special ingredient called ‘rennet’ is a point of contention for many schools of Islamic law in Sunni Islam, including from scholars in Shafi’i and Hanafi madhhab.
1. What kind of rennet is used?
As you can see, rennet is a major component of cheese-making. Most hard cheeses use this active ingredient, but of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Soft cheeses such as Mozzarella and Provolone do not need rennet to get its creamy consistency.We asked a professional Halal Cheese-maker from Malaysia, Milky Whey‘s Annisa Iwan about the rennet she uses when making her famous Halal artisanal cheese.”Nowadays there are a lot of Halal rennet (certified) including the ones we are using. We use vegetarian rennet and halal certified animal rennet.”
2. How are the rinds washed?
The last issue concerning the process of cheese-making has to do with the way rinds are washed. Many hard cheeses with rinds are washed in brine that is a mixture of water, salt, calcium chloride and vinegar, but there are some that use abundant amounts of wine or beer. The brining process is carried out to slow down the bacteria converting the lactose in cheese into lactic acid. If there’s too much lactic acid produced, the cheese taste would not taste as delicious.
Four things to look out for in cheese to reduce any halal risks
- Halal certification on the packaging
- Vegetarian or microbial rennet being used in the cheese-making process
- Cheeses that have not undergone a brining process, ie. cheese with no rind
- If you do need to purchase a cheese with rind, ask if any lard, wine, beer or any alcohol was wiped over the rind