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why is parmesan not vegetarian

parmesan cheese

Why Is Parmesan Not Vegetarian?

While it may seem surprising, not all cheeses are vegetarian and Parmesan, to the astonishment of many, falls into this category. But why is this staple of Italian cuisine off-limits for vegetarians?

Parmesan and Rennet: The Key Factor

The answer lies in how Parmesan cheese is made. The inclusion of one specific ingredient, called rennet, disqualifies most of the Parmesan cheese you see in stores from being vegetarian-friendly.

Rennet is a set of enzymes used in cheese-making to turn milk into curds and whey – thus starting the transformation from liquid milk to solid cheese. This is a crucial part of traditional cheese-making.

Where Does Rennet Come From?

This is where vegetarians might need to look away. Rennet traditionally comes from the stomach lining of young, unweaned calves. For these enzymes to be obtained, the animal has to be killed, which obviously falls beyond the parameters set by vegetarianism.

Why Not Use Vegetable Rennet?

You might be wondering – aren’t there vegetarian alternatives to animal rennet? The answer is yes, there certainly are. Some cheeses are made using vegetable or microbial rennet, both of which are suitable for vegetarians.

However, according to the Italian laws that govern the standards for Parmigiano-Reggiano (the proper name for real Parmesan), Parmesan has to be made with animal rennet to bear its name. This is to preserve the traditional method of making this type of cheese.

Parmesan-Style Alternatives

In light of this, what can vegetarians who crave the sharp, salty taste of Parmesan do? Thankfully, there are companies that make vegetarian-friendly Parmesan-style cheeses. These cheeses are made to imitate the flavor profile of Parmesan but are made with vegetable or microbial rennet instead of the animal-derived variety.

So, while you might not be able to enjoy true Parmesan as a vegetarian, there is no need to completely miss out.


The use of animal-derived rennet is the primary reason why Parmesan is not considered vegetarian. This news can be quite shocking for those who were unaware, but fortunately, there are Parmesan-style alternatives available.

So the next time you feel the need to garnish your pasta with a sprinkle of cheese, reach for a vegetarian Parmesan substitute, and enjoy your meal guilt-free.