Parmesan Cheese: Veg or Not?

By Tami Fertig July 16, 2014 Categories: Dear VT, How-To's

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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comments

I buy Permesan on www.ilgustoshop.com I like a lot!!

Gina - 2014-11-10 16:35:44

Parmesan cheese with or without animal rennet is still not veg. This is why my clients are confused. Anything with animal (milk in Parmesan) is animal and not veg. Perhaps specify 'lacto vegetarian."

Diana Cullum-Dugan - 2014-09-23 18:09:01

I second the Go Veggie! Grated Parmesan recommendation - and also agree that I can't tell the difference between it and Kraft grated parmesan. I'm a fan!

Stef - 2014-09-17 01:08:18

Pine nuts or cashews ground together with garlic cloves and sea salt make an awesome parmesan cheese substitute.

Sheena Berkley - 2014-09-16 06:09:22

Whole Foods has a grated and shredded Parmesan cheese in their store brands that is vegetarian. I especially like the shredded.

Linda - 2014-08-05 17:47:00

There is a company online that makes a vegetarian parmesan www.bookhams.com

Lisa Rees - 2014-07-27 17:22:43

Kosher cheese is *always* made with animal-free rennet.

SR - 2014-07-21 18:09:24

Considering the calves that are born in order to keep the milk flowing are killed, I would say that no cheese is vegetarian-friendly. I love the Go Veggie! Grated Parmesan. It's not going to pass for something from Italy, but I wouldn't be able to the tell the difference between it and the Kraft grated parmesan. I use it on top of spaghetti and in pretty much any recipe that calls for grated parmesan.

screwdestiny - 2014-07-19 16:21:51

Sainsbury's 'Basics' Italian Hard Cheese is now vegetarian again. There was a while last year when they were using cow's rennet but after a campaign (that I think may have been started by my sister) it's now safe again.

Ian Moffatt - 2014-07-19 12:03:47

I'm a chef and a vegetarian. I use italian parmesan and don't consider this a compromise on the principle. rennet is an enzyme:a protein just like any present in milk anyways. true that to get you have kill a cow but so you do to get milk. I mean not the cow that you milk but some calves and cows are always kiled in the process of obtaining milk. my point is to own up to the fact that unless you are a true vegan animals are still killed and perhaps treated badly during their life by the industry you support. same goes for wool and leather shoes and duck down pillows. I think making a ppint of avoiding animal rennet in cheese is a way to escape the consciousness that our milk (and eggs) come from animals and that making an ethical choice of which product to buy is more complex than the simple question of the rennet. for my pa I'd rather buy an organic italian parmesan than a mass produced imitation made with non-animal rennet. that's because I care more for the treatment of animals and entire ecosystems more than for the clarity of a principle.

Stanislaw Wawrzyzcek - 2014-07-19 03:15:48

Great information thank u

heerkunwur - 2014-07-19 02:04:07

Hard cheese from a local supermarket is veggie and very much like Parmesan

Nic - 2014-07-18 18:09:25

I make a tasty vegan substitute for parmesan from pine nuts, hamp seeds and nutritional yeast, here is the recipe: http://tasteofslow.com/cheesy-sprinkle-vegan-substitute-parmesan/

Elin R. - 2014-07-18 11:09:33

Oddly enough, it's the cheapest brands that, being inauthentic, are often veggie. The sainsburys basic range one is, for instance. Lots if them aren't labelled Parmesan

David Williams - 2014-07-18 07:34:09

What kind of moral distinction can we really make between dairy cheese with vegetarian rennet and dairy cheese with animal-based rennet?

Anthony - 2014-07-18 01:39:48