Parmesan cheese is a type of hard, aged cheese traditionally made from cow’s milk with origins in Italy. While it may be seen as vegetarian-friendly, the truth is that it isn’t always so straightforward. Many traditional versions of parmesan cheese can contain animal rennet — an enzyme to help coagulate the milk, where it’s derived from the stomach lining of slaughtered calves or lambs.
As such, if you’re looking for a vegetarian-friendly parmesan, it’s important to pay close attention to the label and look for parmesan made with vegetable rennet or microbial rennet. Technically, microbial rennet is derived from the animal gene but can generally be accepted by many vegetarians. Since most brands today use microbial rennet, it should be relatively easy to find them. See examples:
Most of the parmesan cheese made in the US is using a microbial source of rennet. Apart from the microbial, some other brands might also use plant-based vegetable rennet (derived from plants) which is the more suitable option for vegetarians but can have downsides such as bitterness. Especially for longer-aged cheese like parmesan.
Parmigiano Reggiano Is Always Non-vegetarian
Parmigiano Reggiano is the real deal when it comes to parmesan cheese but unfortunately, it’s not suitable for vegetarians. According to the EU law, Parmigiano Reggiano has to be made with animal rennet in order to be labeled as such. And it will usually be labeled as “rennet” or “animal rennet” as shown in the images above.
This is because of the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) standard that Parmigiano Reggiano must adhere to its rigorous production process. That’s also what makes Parmigiano Reggiano such a prized Italian delicacy. Read more about our previous comparison of Parmesan vs. Parmigiano Reggiano.
Vegetarian Parmesan Brands
If you’re looking for vegetarian-friendly parmesan cheese, there are many brands available in the market today. Microbial rennet can generally be accepted by lacto- and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, although some stricter vegetarians might still choose to avoid them.
FDA does not require the rennet source to be clarified. Some brands will have clear labeling on their packaging indicating that they are made with a microbial rennet or plant-based rennet. Read the table:
|Parmesan Brands||Rennet/Label||Suitable for Vegetarian?|
|365 by Whole Foods Market||Microbial Enzymes||Acceptable|
|Good & Gather (Target)||Microbial Enzymes||Acceptable|
|Organic Valley||Vegetarian Enzymes||Yes|
|Trader Joe’s||Microbial Enzymes||Acceptable|
|Arthur’s||Enzymes, and Vegetable Rennet.||Acceptable|
|Market Pantry||Microbial Enzymes||Acceptable|
Belgioioso parmesan also has a vegetarian version, link.
Alternatively, you can also opt for vegan parmesan alternatives made from soy or nuts such as cashews, almonds and macadamia. These vegan parmesan cheese options are becoming increasingly popular due to the nutty and creamy flavors they impart. A few brands worth checking out include Follow Your Heart and Violife, or for grated ones such as Parm, Nooch It and Go Veggie!
So there you have it — all the information you need to make an informed decision when it comes to vegetarian-friendly parmesan cheese. Be sure to check the labels carefully and choose a brand that is suitable for your dietary needs. Enjoy!
[BONUS] Which Parmesan cheese is Halal?
Most of the commercial parmesan brands in the US are non-halal. Miller’s Parmesan cheese is a halal parmesan according to HalalHaram. Kraft and Perfect Italiano both have their halal parmesan version primarily in Muslim countries. Other brands include Floridia Cheese, Emborg, and Tre Stelle.
For Parmigiano Reggiano, San Pier Damiani and Latteria Sociale San Salvatore are halal according to the PN il Primato Nazionale report, read the source. According to Parm Parmesan websites, their products are claimed halal certified as well.