Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by Aaron
Asiago cheese, a popular Italian cheese known for its rich flavor and versatile use in many dishes, has been a topic of interest among vegetarians.
The question arises – is Asiago cheese vegetarian? To answer this, we need to delve into the production process of Asiago cheese and understand what constitutes a vegetarian diet.
But first, what does it mean to be vegetarian?
According to The Vegan Society, a vegetarian diet excludes all forms of animal-derived products. This includes meat, fish, shellfish, insects, dairy, eggs, and honey. The primary reason for this exclusion is to avoid exploitation and cruelty towards animals.
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Why is Asiago Cheese Not Vegetarian?
Asiago cheese is a cow’s milk cheese, first produced in the homonymous town in Italy. It can assume different textures according to its aging, from smooth for the fresh Asiago (Asiago Pressato) to a crumbly texture for the aged cheese (Asiago d’allevo).
The production of Asiago cheese involves the use of rennet, an enzyme traditionally sourced from the stomach lining of calves. This is where the conflict with vegetarianism arises.
The Vegetarian Dilemma
Rennet is an essential ingredient in the cheese-making process, as it helps separate the milk into solid curds and liquid whey.
However, the traditional source of rennet, the stomach lining of calves (sheep or lamb may also be used), is an animal product. This makes Asiago cheese, and many other types of cheeses, non-vegetarian by the strictest definition.
That also means the traditional version of PDO asiago cheese is not suitable for vegetarians.
However, it’s important to note that nowadays there are vegetarian-friendly alternatives to traditional animal rennet. These include microbial rennets or genetically engineered rennets, which are derived from bacteria, mold, plant, or yeast.
Particularly, an artificial enzyme called chymosin (or Fermentation-produced chymosin, FPC) which usually labeled as “enzyme” in the ingredient, took part in most of the modern cheese production.
Most Asiago cheese may be made using these rennets as a viable alternative for many vegetarians, but this is not the norm in PDO- or artisanal asiago cheese making.
How to know if Asiago is suitable (for vegetarians)?
Unfortunately, food labeling laws do not always require processing agents like rennet to be listed, making it difficult for vegetarians to know whether a cheese is suitable for them or not.
With that being said, most Asiago brands by default did not explicitly state the source of rennet. Most commonly you will simply see “rennet” or “enzyme” in the ingredient list.
And of course, you are free to contact the brand or producer for more detail, but the easier and quicker way is to look into the label and ingredient for clues.
As a rule of thumb, If it’s PDO Asiago, it’s usually non-vegetarian as part of the PDO rule is to use an animal rennet. If it’s non-PDO asiago cheese, it could (likely) be made using enzyme which is accetable for many vegetarians.
Let’s look at some examples.
Asiago Brands for Vegetarians
If you are living in the US, the selection may appear somewhat limited.
Some of those including the Asiago Fresco by Belgioioso which is made with non-animal rennet as mentioned on their website and 9-month Asiago by The Cheese Guy (made in the USA) and is also vegetarian as well as certified Kosher, mentioned here.
The Cheese Guy produces all their cheeses with plant-based rennet or non-animal microbial rennet. You can visit their website to learn more.
Another popular one is Aged Asiago by Stella brand. It is listed to use “enzymes” and is vegetarian according to Wisconsin Cheese Mart website. Brands fall under this catagory are Sartori, Boar’s Head and several others, which maybe consider vegetarian in particular lacto-vegetarians and lacto-ovo vegetarians.
There isnt’ too many options when it comes to Asiago-style vegan cheese. Vromage is one of the few that has it on the menu. Their cheese shop located in Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles. However, their product is seasonal and mostly made with nuts and seeds, and they ship vegan asiago across the country too. You might want to drop by or contact them first.