Parmesan Cheese: Veg or Not?

By: Tami Fertig

Parmesan Tasting Platter
Readers often ask us why we use Parmesan in our recipes. Isn’t it off-limits to vegetarians? Actually, not always. Here are three handy tips for finding a veg-friendly variety (or cheesy substitute!) to sprinkle on all your eggplant Parmesan and Italian chickpea soup.

1. Avoid imported Parmesan. Chances are, it was made with animal rennet, an enzyme that helps milk separate into curds and whey. That’s because, according to EU law, Parmesan must contain just three ingredients: milk, salt, and—yup—animal rennet. Anything else, and it can’t be called Parmesan (or “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” as it’s known in Italy).

2. Check the label for animal-free rennet. Sure, Parmesan without animal rennet might not pass as the real deal abroad, but why sweat the details? You’ll know your cheese is veg if it lists “vegetable rennet” or “microbial rennet” as an ingredient. If no rennet is specified, try searching this veg-friendly cheese database. A few animal-rennet-free Parmesan options:

* Organic Valley Shredded Parmesan
* Trader Joe’s Grated Parmesan
* Belgioioso Vegetarian Parmesan (a rare grate-it-yourself veg wedge)

3. Not into dairy? Get creative with substitutes. Make toasted breadcrumbs by sautéing fresh breadcrumbs in olive oil and seasoning with sea salt. They’ll add the same salty, satisfying crunch as Parmesan when sprinkled over pasta or stew. Or add a little cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast to popcorn, pizza, or salad (some varieties, such as the Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, provide a great source of vitamin B12 too).

Share with us: what’s your favorite veg-friendly Parmesan (or tasty substitute)?

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