Last Updated on November 5, 2022 by Aaron
Cheese is a dairy product that is created by coagulating milk. This process can be done with rennet, which is an enzyme that comes from the stomachs of calves.
Without rennet, cheese cannot be made – (Or maybe? we will discuss below).
There are different types of rennet used in the production of different types of cheese, and provolone is no exception.
In this blog post, we will discuss what rennet is, how it is used in the making of provolone cheese, and some brands that offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly versions of this popular cheese.
Table of Contents
What is Rennet?
Rennet is a set of enzymes extracted from the stomachs of mammals. It contains key enzymes such as chymosins, pepsins, and lipase, to help curdle the milk (1) separating curds from the whey.
Due to limited availability, animals rennet accounts for less than 5% of cheese production.
There are different types of rennets. Traditionally, calf rennet was used to make cheese, which including Italian PDO provolone. Therefore, provolone is not vegetarian.
However, there are vegetarian options available that use plant-based enzymes or microbial rennets in place of animal rennet. But it may be less purify and cause some other problems (4).
The most widely used option in industrial cheesemaking today is called Fermentation-produced Chymosin, or “Chymosin” which you will normally see on the label. It is produced by genetically-modified microorganisms (5).
How is Rennet Used in the Making of Provolone Cheese?
In the making of provolone cheese, rennet is added to milk that has been heated to about 90 F or 32 C lukewarm temperature (2) and stirred continuously. Starter cultures are also added. The milk coagulates and the curds are then separated from the whey.
The curds are then cut into small pieces, which allows liquid whey to drain. Followed by cooking the curd in higher heat at 185 F or 85 C. Then knead and stretch the curds mass. Lastly shaped, brined, and aged.
Most of the PDO provolone cheesemakers are still using calf rennet or liquid calf rennet. But others might use microbial rennet, which is suitable for vegetarians. In fact, many of the non-PDO provolone producers are labeled to use “enzyme” or “microbial rennet” in the ingredients list.
Some may just state “rennet” but didn’t specify.
Brands Offering Vegetarian Rennet and Vegan Friendly
There are several brands that offer vegetarian or vegan-friendly versions of provolone cheese. Examples of those that specify to use vegetarian rennet or non-animal enzymes that you can buy in the USA are:
I’ve included the USDA FoodData Central link for each so you can check the ingredients. But some other brands might also be vegetarian-friendly, just make sure to check the label of provolone the next time you go groceries.
The vegan-friendly provolones have limited choices. Below is one of those:
Provolone Without Rennet
Provolone can be made without the rennet.
You can simply just replace the rennet with citric acid or distilled white vinegar to help curdle the milk. However, this method is called acid-set cheese, which will drastically lower the acidity of the curds. At the end, you may get a provolone with poor meltability and the texture can be somewhat firmer. It may also have an aftertaste from the rennet replacement.
You can check out my other blog post about Feta Rennet and Vegetarians, where you can watch how to make cheese without rennet.