Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Aaron
Gorgonzola is a type of blue cheese, and whether or not it’s vegetarian depends on how it’s made.
The key ingredient of concern in many cheeses is rennet, an enzyme used to coagulate milk to form cheese. Rennet is traditionally sourced from the stomach lining of young ruminant animals, such as calves. If a cheese is made using animal-derived rennet, it’s not considered vegetarian.
However, many cheese producers nowadays use vegetarian rennet sources, which can be derived from microbial (fungi or bacteria) or vegetable sources. If gorgonzola or any other cheese is made using vegetarian rennet, it’s vegetarian-friendly.
To determine whether a specific gorgonzola cheese is vegetarian, you would need to check the label or do some research. If the label specifies “vegetarian rennet” or “microbial rennet,” then it’s 100% suitable for vegetarians. An example is Gorgonzola by Castello.
Otherwise, if it just says “rennet” without clarification, it’s uncertain without further information.
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Gorgonzola with “Enzyme” labeled: Is it Vegetarian?
When a label states “enzyme,” it could mean either animal rennet, microbial rennet, FPC rennet, or even a combination of these. However, most mass-produced gorgonzola often use FPC (Fermentation-Produced Chymosin).
FPC is produced through fermentation using genetically modified microorganisms (often bacteria, yeast, or fungi) that have had the gene for producing chymosin (the primary enzyme in rennet) inserted into them. These microorganisms produce chymosin during fermentation, which is then extracted and used as rennet in cheese-making.
Because FPC rennet is derived from microbial sources and not from the stomachs of animals, it is suitable for vegetarians. In fact, due to the ease of obtaining, often cheaper, and more consistent supply of microbial rennet, many U.S. cheese producers prefer it over animal-derived rennet. This trend makes it somewhat more likely that a U.S.-made gorgonzola cheese will be vegetarian than one produced traditionally in Europe, though this is a generalization and exceptions exist. However, this is not a guarantee that any cheese labeled with “enzyme” is vegetarian.
On the other hand, if someone strictly opposes genetically modified organisms (GMOs), they might have reservations about cheeses made with FPC rennet, given its production method.
Examples are gorgonzola produced by Belgioioso, Stella, Sartori, and the Boar’s Head.
Avoid PDO Gorgonzola
Many traditional European cheeses, including Gorgonzola, historically use animal-derived rennet in their production. Given that Gorgonzola with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status often emphasizes age-old recipes and traditional methods, it’s quite likely that several PDO-certified Gorgonzola producers use animal rennet.
Thus, you may want to look out for traditional, artisanal, and imported gorgonzola. Examples are Gorgonzola Piccante P.D.O. by Igor and Gorgonzola Dolce by Ballarini as well as several other brands like Arrigoni, Vivaldi, and more.
Keep in mind that each of them might also produce different varieties of Gorgonzola for vegetarians.
The Vegan Gorgonzola
Vegan gorgonzola alternatives are typically made from ingredients like cashews, almonds, soy, or other plant-based mediums. They are often fermented or aged in a manner similar to dairy cheese to develop depth of flavor. Additionally, they may include cultures, enzymes, and molds that are vegan-friendly to replicate the characteristic blue veins of gorgonzola.
Can you tell which one is the vegan gorgonzola? (the other being real PDO gorgonzola)
The correct answer is actually the left image, the one without the brown rind (from long aging). It is actually a vegan gorgonzola made with cashews, and coconut milk and marbled with nutrient-rich blue-green spirulina. It’s entirely plant-based, and they look almost identical, right? But the product was discontinued, bummer… still, here is their product page.
To find vegan gorgonzola, you’ll likely have the best luck at health food stores, specialty grocery stores, or online vegan retailers.