Provolone Cheese: Is It Vegetarian? (Animal Rennet, Brands)

Last Updated on August 13, 2023 by Aaron

Not all provolone cheese is vegetarian, but vegetarian versions do exist.

Provolone cheese, like many cheeses, is typically made using rennet, which is an enzyme that helps milk coagulate to form cheese. Rennet traditionally comes from the stomach lining of slaughtered young ruminants, such as calves, which would make it non-vegetarian.

However, because of dietary needs and the demand for vegetarian cheeses, many cheese producers now use microbial rennet or other vegetarian-friendly coagulants derived from plants or microbial sources.

The easiest way is to check the Ingredients: Look for words like “enzyme,” “microbial rennet,” “vegetable rennet,” or “non-animal rennet” in the ingredient list.

If it simply says “rennet” without qualification, you might want to contact the manufacturer or look for another brand. We will discuss more about the vegetarian-friendly brands below.

Type of Rennets Used in Provolone Making

Rennet is a key ingredient in the cheese-making process, including in the production of provolone.

And there are several types of rennet used in cheese-making, and the choice of which one to use can depend on tradition, flavor profiles, and dietary or ethical considerations. Here’s a summary:

  1. Traditional Animal Rennet: This is extracted from the stomach lining of young ruminants, typically calves. Cheeses made with this kind of rennet are not vegetarian.
  2. Microbial Rennet: This is derived from fungi or bacteria. It is a popular vegetarian alternative to animal rennet. However, some purists argue that cheeses made with microbial rennet have a slightly different flavor i.e. bitterness [1], or don’t age as well.
  3. Vegetable Rennet: This is extracted from plants that have milk-coagulating properties. Examples include thistle and nettles. It’s less commonly used than microbial or traditional animal rennet, but it’s another vegetarian option.
  4. Fermentation-Produced Chymosin (FPC): With advances in biotechnology, scientists have been able to produce rennet through fermentation using genetically modified organisms (GMO). This rennet is very consistent in quality and is acceptable for vegetarians. The majority of provolone cheeses produced in the U.S., especially at an industrial scale, use FPC because of its reliability and cost-effectiveness. Maybe labeled as “chymosin”.

For provolone cheese specifically, the type of rennet used can vary based on the manufacturer and the region.

Traditional Italian provolone might still be made using animal rennet, while some producers in other parts of the world might opt for microbial rennet or FPC to cater to a vegetarian market or for other reasons.

For example:

Provolone has two PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) designations: Provolone Valpadana and Provolone del Monaco.

  1. Provolone Valpadana PDO: This cheese can be made in a wide region that spans from Lombardy to Veneto to the Trentino region. The PDO regulations for Provolone Valpadana allow for the use of both calf rennet and lamb rennet, which means that this cheese is not vegetarian-friendly by default.
  2. Provolone del Monaco PDO: This cheese is produced in a more limited area, specifically in the province of Naples in the Campania region. Like Provolone Valpadana, the PDO regulations for Provolone del Monaco specify the use of natural calf rennet, making it non-vegetarian as well.

Thus, if you’re strictly vegetarian and are considering eating PDO Provolone, you might want to refrain.

So, what about our regular supermarket provolone?

Provolone Brands: Vegetarians or Vegans

The rennet used in provolone cheese sold in regular supermarkets can vary based on the brand and the country of production.

In many western countries, most large commercial brands often use fermentation-produced chymosin (FPC), which is typically labeled as “Enzymes”, because it’s consistent and can be produced on a large scale. Such cheeses are typically vegetarian-friendly. For example, Kraft, Tillamook, Sargento, and Belgioioso.

The ingredient list on the provolone products for each brand.

Whereas, some store brands, generic brands, imported, or artisanal brands, especially from a region with strong traditional cheese-making practices, there’s a possibility it could be made with animal rennet, or even microbial rennet to cater to a broader audience.

If you’re looking for the strictly non-animal vegetarian versions, see these brands:

  • Applegate Organic Provolone (vegetable enzyme), website / usda
  • Horizon Organic Provolone (microbial enzyme), usda
  • Whole Foods Market Organic Provolone UK (microbial enzyme)
  • Organic Valley Provolone (vegetarian enzyme), usda
  • Wegmans Organic Sliced Provolone (non-animal enzyme), usda
  • Nuna Naturals Organic Nuna Grass-fed Provolone (non-animal rennet), usda
Organic Valley (left) and Applegate (right) provolone

Moreover, modern packaging often indicates the type of rennet used, especially if it’s vegetarian-friendly, as this can be a selling point. Look for terms like “microbial rennet,” “vegetable rennet,” “non-animal rennet,”, which otherwise may include vegetarian symbols or certifications.

For vegans, these are good options to go with:

Additionally, vegan cheeses have come a long way in recent years. They melt, stretch, and taste better than ever before, largely due to the increased demand and subsequent advancements in vegan food technology.

No Rennet? Some cheeses, like paneer and some fresh cheeses, use acids like lemon juice or vinegar to coagulate the milk. However, this acid-set method is not typically used for provolone.

The texture and taste of provolone are heavily influenced by its coagulation and aging process, which involves the use of some coagulating agent like rennet.

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