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Are there sneaky additives in your natural cheese? We just removed 3!

written by

Marie Reedell

posted on

December 15, 2023


Cheesemaking dates back thousands of years. It's one of the earliest foods, made with just milk, naturally occurring cultures, real salt, and stomach for coagulant. But, with the modern push towards industrialization and consistency and food safety, this staple food that nourished humans through the winter has become complicated and somewhat artificial, deviating from its simple and completely natural origins. 

The scary part if that, even the smartest food shoppers don't know it. 

Are there additives in cheese? Yes, there are. But you can't know it just by looking at the label.

Sure, in a highly processed "cheese" like Velveeta, strange non-cheese ingredients like canola oil and food starch and annatto coloring are listed on the label. It's easy to see that an ultra melty block of bright orange Velveeta is not real cheese. It's more of a cheese-like substance.

But, in more old fashioned cheeses found in stores (even organic cheeses), the labels typically have a short list of ingredients: milk, cultures, rennet, and salt. With cheese, it‚Äôs required to list the main components of a cheese. But that's not the end of the story. What about the ingredients in the ingredients. It's NOT required to disclose those minute details on the label. 

Here are some things NOT required on cheese labels:

Are synthetic vitamins added to the milk? Milk often has artificial vitamin A and D added to boost the nutrition panel.

What kind of rennet is used? There are animal, plant, and microbial forms of rennet. The exact kind if not required on the label. You can learn more about types of rennet here

What ingredients are in the rennet? Plant and microbial rennet are typically made from and contain GMOs. And even the most natural veal rennets often contain additives like sodium acetate, propylene glycol, or potassium sorbate.

What strains are in the culture? This info is especially important to those who are intolerant or allergic to specific strains of bacteria, yeast, or fungi.

What ingredients are in the culture? All cultures nowadays have maltodextrin as an ingredient. This seems to be sadly unavoidable. Maltodextrin is a sweetener and a carbohydrate with no nutritional value. It's added because the freeze dried cultures need a basic food to jumpstart them back into action. 

What kind of salt is used? Many salts have anti-caking agents such as sodium aluminosilicate or magnesium carbonate added to make it free-flowing. This is starkly different from a sea salt, which is simply dried salt that has formed naturally.

Are any anti-caking agents added to shredded cheese? Common anti-caking agents are potato starch, natamycin, and cellulose.

When I get into the nitty gritty, I always want to pull back a bit and look at the bigger picture. The additives listed above are present in tiny quantities, in trace amounts. That's why the FDA doesn't require them to be disclosed. 

But, my question is, if there's trace amounts of synthetic non-food ingredients in everything I eat, then are they still "trace" amounts? Has there been testing on consistent consumption of these over time? Has there been testing done on how these additives interact with each other in my body? Do we know how long additives stay in your body and where? What are the long term health consequences? I am wary that these questions are being overlooked. I mean, what if the scientific findings were negative? It would affect big food businesses in big and potentially costly ways.

If you're with me on reducing synthetics and toxins and additives whenever possible, then you likely want to dig farther than the label. If you want to know the exact ingredients in your cheese, including any trace additives, you need to ask the company and cross your fingers that they'll do the research required to answer you completely. And that requires looking at the data sheets for every ingredient used. The fact is, you can't know from the label alone.

There's good news. There are some companies out there that are going above and beyond with food transparency, and that includes Miller's Bio Farm. Here's what's super natural about our cheese:

  • We don't add anything to the milk. It's simply milk (and non-homogenized, too). Plus, the milk comes from cows that are 100% grass-fed, genetically tested to be A2/A2, and free of synthetic chemicals.
  • We list the type of rennet used.
  • We list the exact strains used in the culture.
  • We list any trace additives in the "honest disclosure" section of the product description. 
  • We use real Celtic sea salt.
  • We do NOT add any anti-caking agents to our shredded cheese.

If you would like any info that's not listed, please contact us! We are happy to go above and beyond and get you the info you deserve.

And there's even better news! Our cheesemakers recently switched to a beef rennet with no additives at all. This removed 3 additives from many of our cheeses. Hooray! 

Any cheese made after June 2023 has only one additive in it, the maltodextrin in the cheese cultures (gee, I wish we could find an additive-free culture!). 

The only two cheeses made with the older beef rennet include the sharp cheddar (should have additive-free rennet in 2025) and the smoked cheddar (should have additive-free rennet in March 2023).

What do you look for when shopping for cheese? How do you make sure you're avoiding additives and toxins?

I'd love to hear from you. Just comment below (no account required - start typing for the guest option to appear).

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