There are only 4 ingredients used in making the Parmigiano Reggiano — salt, whey starter, cow milk, and rennet. Traditionally, the red cow has to be fed only with local grass and hay.
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 an organic product.
That said, the difference is that the forage provided for the dairy has to be free of fertilizers, pesticides, artificial additives, chemicals, perservatives, and GMO. 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 region. Here is how one of the popular Parmigiano Reggiano makers prepares their cow feed under the stringent regulation. But, is that organic? no.
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 as well. The Ferrari Bio farm is one of them to produce organic Parmigiano Reggiano.
Also, this one is the organic Parmigiano Reggiano where you can get now on Amazon, but be noticed that it 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.
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/100g. Although the amount is insignificant even for people with lactose intolerance, it shouldn’t be confused with lactose-free.
Parmigiano is made of cow milk, and it’s certainly not dairy-free. Instead, some are suggesting that you can use nut or soy’s milk to substitute cow milk, see how.
Read 5 reasons allergic to cheese, feta in this case.