Before answering that, we need to know what ingredients actually used in making the cheese.
Basically, there are only 4 ingredients used in making the Parmigiano Reggiano — salt, whey starter, red cow milk, and rennet.
Traditionally, the red cow has to be fed only with local grass and hay. The presence of these bacteria is what makes the cheese taste so good and different.
As of today, not all cheesemakers in Emilia-Romagna is still following this century-old practice, unless it’s labeled with organic certification. The normal Parmigiano Reggiano, including those labeled with “grass-fed”, that you bought is not necessary an organic product.
To be listed as organic, the forage provided for the dairy has to be free of fertilizers, pesticides, artificial additives, chemicals, perservatives, and GMO.
And also, the cow has to be raised humanely and naturally without giving antibiotics, drugs or growth hormones.
Read more about organic milk on wikipedia.
So, which one is organic?
In order to be an organic Parmigiano Reggiano, the fodder used has to be from certified organic providers in the same DOP region.
Here is an example of how the popular Parmigiano Reggiano makers prepare their cow feed under a stringent regulation.
Some say the organic Parmigiano Reggiano is the real Parmigiano cheese as it practices the traditional method used by monk 1000 years ago. Is there any organic one these days? Yes, but it doesn’t come cheap.
If you are living in the US, here is my best recommendation you can find on Amazon.
The Ferrari Bio Farm is one to produce organic Parmigiano Reggiano.
Also, this one is the organic Parmigiano Reggiano where you can get now on Amazon, but be noticed that the price will cost you 30% more than the normal one.
The normal one by the same seller is selling at $18 per pound.
What about vegetarian?
Parmigiano Reggiano is not a vegetarian product.
As stated in the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), the traditional method involved the use of animal rennet which extracted from the calf stomach.
It’s essentially similar to the rennet used in Feta, read more.
Fortunately, you can get your hands on the vegetarian version of Parmigiano cheese simply by switching the animal rennet to vegetable rennet. But, it also means that the cheese is no longer the original Parmigiano cheese.
Are you a fans of blue cheese, I explained why gorgonzola is not for vegetarian here.
What about dairy and lactose?
Parmigiano Reggiano is neither dairy-free nor lactose-free. According to the official Parmigiano Reggiano nutrition info, it contains <1 mg of lactose.
To be exact, it’s later stated 0-0.4 mg. Although the amount is insignificant even for people with lactose intolerance, it shouldn’t be confused with lactose-free.
For that reason, some are suggesting that you can use nut’s milk or soy’s milk to substitute cow milk, see how.
Continuing the lactose insolence topic, we discussed deeper in 5 reasons allergic to cheese, feta in this case.