How Is Cheese Made?

Cheese is often what people turn to when they stop eating meat. Unfortunately, the dairy industry is one of the cruelest forms of animal farming humans have cultivated. Cheese is also not the artisan product many consumers believe it to be. It is a multi-million-dollar industry that, like all forms of animal farming, has turned to highly industrialized methods to meet global demands. 

The result? A factory-farmed, factory processed product, that results in the suffering of animals, poor human health outcomes, and a hefty carbon footprint

Steps To Make Cheese

Cheese is seen by many as a traditional, artisan product, produced on smallholdings with one or two cows. In today’s modern economy, where industrialized farming is the norm, however, this is far from the case.

Making cheese (and extracting milk from cows to make it) has become profitable business and therefore, the process has changed dramatically in recent years, much to the detriment of the ones producing the raw materials (the cows). Milk is often processed into cheese in massive quantities in automated factories, a far cry from the small farmhouses we are often shown in dairy industry marketing.

Photo credit: We Animals Media

How Do We Get Milk for Cheese?

Cows farmed for their milk are among the most abused of all animals in industrial farming. On dairy farms, cows are forcibly impregnated over and over in order to keep milk production high, while their calves are seen as no more than a by-product. Naturally, a calf would suckle their mother for up to a year and maintain a strong bond for several years. Of course, cows only produce milk to feed their calves, which is why those calves are removed from their mothers within hours of birth to stop them drinking what is rightfully theirs. They may be slaughtered for veal, fattened for beef, be forced into the same cycle as their mothers, or — if their bodies cannot be monetized in another way — they may be shot at birth. After the separation, the grief-stricken mothers are entered into a cycle of milking, impregnation, birth, and loss — all to keep their milk coming. 

If we didn’t artificially inseminate cows, they wouldn’t produce milk outside of their natural reproduction cycle. Instead, this cycle is forced upon them, with no break, until their milk productivity declines and they are considered spent, usually within 4-5 years. Cows’ milk is also not a natural product for human consumption — which really is no surprise, considering it is designed for a 100lb bovine baby. 

Without this process, there is no cheese.

Six Steps of Cheese Production

The following is the common process of processing milk into cheese. This is how most of the cheese we consume in the western world is made: 

  1. A cow is impregnated to force her to produce milk.
  2. Her calf is taken from her, so that he or she cannot drink the milk, which is instead dispatched to a factory. The calf may be shot or reared for veal.
  3. The milk arrives at the factory where it is pasteurized, which means it is heated to kill off harmful bacteria, which are often present due to the conditions cows have been kept in. 
  4. Starter cultures of bacteria are introduced which ferment lactose into lactic acid. 
  5. An enzyme is then introduced to coagulate the milk and separate the hard curds which will become cheese. This is often rennet.
  6. These curds are then cut, shaped and aged to make a final product. Sometimes mold is introduced.

The process above happens on an industrial scale across the world and produces over 20 million metric tonnes of cheese every year. To produce enough milk for this volume of cheese, millions of cows across the world must be exploited.

Calf hutches are a common sight on dairy farms. Photo credit: We Animals Media

What Is Rennet?

Rennet is naturally found in the stomachs of calves and is designed to curdle their mother’s milk in their stomach for easier digestion. Cheese-makers are essentially recreating this process so that humans can consume cows’ milk — which seems a bit odd, right?

Traditionally, rennet would be extracted from the stomach of a slaughtered calf. This kind of rennet is still used in many cheeses, and in fact, European law states that Parmesan cannot be called ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ without the use of animal rennet.

Thankfully, many companies have now found animal-free sources of this enzyme — but, as described above, the dairy industry is no stranger to killing baby cows, so this change has made little difference to the numbers of calves slaughtered to create dairy products.

Cheese Marketing

Dairy industry marketing consistently shows us imagery of happy cows on small happy farms or master cheese makers, painstakingly crafting their artisan products. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case. 

Cheese is often made from milk that comes from an intensive farm and is processed in a factory on a production line. But if people saw these realities, they would be much less likely to buy cheese products. So, companies, like dairy giant Arla, turn to marketing like this, that shows happy cows interacting with happy farmers. 

In reality, farms that supply Arla look a lot more like this. 

Photo credit: We Animals Media


The first step of cheese-making is to cause deep emotional and physical suffering to living, breathing, sentient animals. And since this industry is a global, multi-million-dollar entity, this suffering is multiplied on a global scale, affecting millions of animals every day. The industry, however, does all it can to make sure you look away from this suffering and to believe that cows are happy. 

There are multiple plant-based alternatives to cheese, which do not rely on harming cows, and have a much lower environmental impact, so why swallow the suffering price tag of dairy?

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