Parmigiano-Reggiano (or for the average American like myself, Parmesan) is not vegetarian. If you’ve been a vegetarian for a long time, this may not come as news to you, but if you are new to the vegetable diet like myself, this may be a shock to you. You see, Parmesan cheese is made up of a differing amount of ingredients which can be combined in a whole host of different ways depending upon who is making it. The only exceptions to this are three main ingredients which are required in order to actually call Parmesan cheese…well…Parmesan.
These three ingredients are cow milk, salt, and calf rennet.
The first two of these ingredients are very clear and so I won’t go into detail with them, but rennet, for those who do not know is, “an enzyme derived from the stomachs of calves, lambs or goats before they consume anything but milk” (Cheesemaking.com). It is used to curdle the milk to turn it into cheese, and as I have mentioned, is a required ingredient for Parmesan cheese. I won’t fully describe how rennet is obtained (if you wish, it is easily found online) but the animal does in fact have to die for the rennet to be acquired. This fact alone is enough for me to know I no longer wish to consume products which utilize rennet.
For those of you who still wish to be vegetarian AND eat Parmesan cheese, fear not! There is an alternative that exists for people just like you…and me. It turns out rennet can be created using fungi, or other genetically modified micro organisms instead of using the enzymes found in a calf’s stomach. The three main rennet producers are Rhizomucor miehei, Endothia parasitica and Rhizomucor pusillis, and it is now relatively easy (although slightly more expensive) to purchase a Parmesan cheese which is made from one of these three organisms instead of calf rennet.
In fact, I have done this now, and to be entirely honest I cannot even tell the difference. You can now continue eating your spaghetti and other Parmesan covered plates knowing full well that no animals were harmed in the making of your fine dish…As long as you quickly replace your Parmesan with the vegetarian alternative…
Until next time,
The Part Time Vegetarian