Is Parmesan Cheese Vegetarian, or Not?

Have you heard rumblings wondering whether Parmesan cheese is truly vegetarian? Well, cheese is possibly one food product preventing most vegetarians from professing absolute veganism. Together with milk and eggs, they are a very potent protein source for non-meat eaters. 

However, cheese differs from each type, and, in some sense, not all cheeses are vegetarian. In this article, you’ll get to know where the Parmesan cheese sits with this comparison.

What Makes Parmesan Cheese Not Vegetarian?

To start with, let me set it straight to you that Parmesan cheese is NOT vegetarian. The hard Italian cheese is a makeup of the fourth stomach lining of ruminant animals called the animal rennet. Most of these animals live in isolation to be later killed for the sole purpose of their meat.

Upon extraction, the calves’ stomachs are cut open and further sliced into smaller pieces. These little chunks are dropped off in a solution of saltwater and vinegar or wine to remove the enzymes. On filtering the solution, a large quantity of milk is coagulated afterward. Today, chemistry has inducted simpler methods, although that still involve the stomachs of grazing animals.

In America, rennet can also be synthesized from fungus as a bypass from the usual animal route. This type of rennet is otherwise known as “microbial rennet.” Often, most cheese brands do not indicate these on their labels, but you can verify with the manufacturer. Conversely, in Europe, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses are legally identified as non-vegan.

So, if you reside somewhere besides Europe and want a meat-free meal, conventional Parmesan cheese may not be suitable for you. 

Why is Rennet So Important to Parmesan Cheese?

The ingredient rennet gives way to more questions. Why is it a crucial part of the Parmesan cheesemaking process? Manufacturers use it in the coagulation process.

The enzyme chymosin enhances the whole process. This does an excellent job setting aside liquids and solids in the cheesemaking procedure. And when rennet comes in after the milk has been pasteurized, it commences the separation process.

This is the EU’s recognized technique for cheese production. A cheese made in the Reggiano way with only cow’s milk, calf rennet, and salt is a template for meeting these requirements.

Is Parmesan The Only Cheese That Uses Rennet?

Unfortunately, rennet isn’t used for Parmesan cheese alone. Generally, Italian cheeses include this animal extract. Some examples include Grana Padano, Gorgonzola, and Pecorino Romano.

Aside from the Italian cheese products, some Swiss, Spanish, and French cheeses aren’t entirely devoid of rennet. Examples of these are Vacherin, Emmenthaler, Camembert, and Gruyère. For the Spanish Manchego, rennet is grossly essential in its curding process.

Vegetarian Alternatives for Cheeses with Rennet

Most hard cheeses contain some portion of rennet. However, softer cheeses such as swiss and provolone are wonderfully vegetarian. Also, cheese containing soya beans, almonds, cashew, coconut, and other plant components is well suited for vegetarians.

You don’t have to be bothered about other alternatives to choose from as a vegetarian. There are quite a sizeable number of choices to navigate and eventually sort out preferred picks. Although compared to the European Parmesan cheese, these might be less tasty.

For the vegetarian cheeses, the making criteria still involve curdling and coagulation by certain enzymes like chymosin. Mind you, these non-animal derivatives aren’t as common. The reason for that is that their cheese preparation processes can be a bit clumsier, coupled with an after differing flavor.

There’ve been evolvements in plant-centered methods. Plants like artichokes, cardoon thistle, and nettles can be preludes to rennet. Azeitão is an Iberian cheese made natively from plant rennet. This implies possibilities for other Spanish and Portuguese options.

Are There Any Brands of Parmesan That Are Vegetarian?

As a Parmesan brand lover, the good news is that there are suitable cheese options for you on the menu. Some vegan-friendly Parmesan alternatives are Parma vegan Parmesan and Violife vegan Parmesan cheeses. Instead of animal rennet, the former is made from other vegan ingredients. Similarly, the latter is made with vitamin B12 and coconut oil. Also, it is entirely vegan and free from soy and lactose.

Others are Kraft Grafted Parmesan Cheese, Gopal’s Original Rawmesan, Parmal Vegan Parmesan Original, soy Parmesan, twineham grange Italian-style hard cheese, and Go Veggie Vegan Grafted Parmesan Cheese.

How to Be Sure Your Parmesan is Vegetarian

As a vegetarian, you may tend to be guilted by animal consumption. This is entirely understandable. To be sure about whether or not your purchase is vegetarian, there are some guides to note.

  1. If the cheese label doesn’t say plant or vegetable rennet is used, it is most likely made from animal rennet. Moreover, “microbial rennet” can be another way to say it’s a non-animal rennet product.
  2. Imported cheeses are mostly not vegetarian. This is due to the impositions of the European Union on the Parmesan labels. And for animal rennet imports, it should be an active ingredient.
  3. The bottled types of Parmesan cheese may be vegetarian-friendly, especially in the U.S. However, if you go to a grocery store to purchase these types of cheese, check the description to be sure.
  4. In addition, you can look up rennet awareness guides to get enlightened more on cheese rennet and the making methods.

Again, is Parmesan cheese vegetarian? In the last couple of minutes, you may be taken aback by your discovery of Parmesan cheeses. It’s a good thing you now have a credible answer to that question. Then, you can seek plausible vegan cheese alternatives.

Final Thoughts

However, considering the delightful taste of cheese, you might want to rethink your choices. Either way, the decision is yours to make. While assessing your options, consider the guidance laid out in this article. There are alternatives, should you choose to remove Parmesan from your diet!

Brett White
Latest posts by Brett White (see all)