Alternatives to Parmesan

Since I was the only vegetarian in my family when I was growing up, there were many foods that I didn’t realise weren’t vegetarian until I was in my late teens.

I remember being devastated finding out that there was this thing called gelatine that was made from cows and could be found in most things with a jelly-like consistency. I did decide to ignore this fact for a long time and carry on eating Haribo regardless!

Now I’m a bit older, and have don’t have a sweet tooth, the foodstuff that I find the hardest to avoid through principle is Parmesan. It seems there are many cheeses that are masquerading as a vegetarian friendly but aren’t. Since Parmesan has a uniquely strong and salty flavour that adds a wonderful taste to many dishes, I found it almost upsetting when I found it wasn’t vegetarian. This is a big problem to me because not only to I love cheese, but I’m marrying into a family with Italian roots.

But thankfully, there are now some great vegetarian friendly Parmesan alternatives on the market. I’m yet to find one that matches the kind of Parmesan you can get in Italy, but most of the non-vegetarian Parmesan available in the UK doesn’t match this standard anyway, unless you’re prepared to spend an obscene amount of money.

That being said, cheese can only be called Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) if it is made in a certain way, which includes being made of calf rennet. Therefore, the vegetarian alternatives can’t, legally, be called Parmigiano Reggiano, but has been designed taste the same or, at least, very similar. Parmesan has had a Protected Designation of Origin status since 1996.

Places where vegetarian Parmesan-like hard Italian-style cheeses can be found:

If anyone knows of any other vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese I can add to this list, do let me know.

September 2013 update!

I have recently been informed by one of my readers that Sainburys basic Italian hard cheese, which was previously listed here as vegetarian, has recently changed the packaging style and ingredients of its Italian hard cheese and is no longer vegetarian. Sainsburys said: “We had to switch suppliers quite quickly due to unforeseen circumstances.  We have found a new supplier who is able to produce this vegetarian for us.  However, the cheese has to age for 12 to 14 months.  We expect the vegetarian cheese to be ready for Spring 2014.”

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18 comments

  1. Ramsay Street Recaps · · Reply

    Thanks for this news. We contacted Sainsburys when we noticed that the packaging of their Basics hard cheese had changed. They confirmed that it was no longer suitable for vegetarians but failed to mention that they’d be bringing out a new version next year. Relieved to hear this. We stocked up on the old style cheese when we noticed they were changing it but our stock is dwindling after making pesto to keep up with a glut of basil!

  2. As a vegetarian for some years I was very disappointed to learn a few years ago that Parmesan was not vegetarian. Over time I’ve tasted many veggie alternatives and substitutes but none made the grade. Most of them either tasted differently or didn’t cook the same. However, things have changed recently with Tesco’s Everyday Value Italian Style Hard Cheese. Made in Hungary and (bizarrely) packed in Italy this is IMHO the closest yet. The “suitable for vegetarians” appellation is in tiny writing on the back. I’m not a big fan of Tesco especially since their stance on milk from the badger cull areas but I can thoroughly recommend this product.
    If I was Tesco I’d be taking out big adverts in the veggie press!

  3. Hi. You might also be interested to know that Morrisons are doing a vegetarian pasta cheese, at £2.30 for a 200g pack.

    1. Sounds nice and cheap! Thanks for letting me know!

  4. If you live in North London, or happen to have a kosher shop nearby, the kosher parmesan uses synthetic rennet, so is veggie friendly. Not cheap though, but neither is Bookhams.

  5. I was so upset that Sainsbury’s decided to get rid of the vegi version of their hard cheese..its always us vegi’s that suffer!! Bring it back Sainsbury’s!!

  6. Rita Robertshaw · · Reply

    Hiya

    In Tesco you will find in their Everyday Value range Italian style hard cheese. It is scrummy!!! I’ve even sent packs of it to my veggie daughter in Australia. If you need a product code it is:
    5 052910 435781.

    I think it’s around £1.50 for 200g.

  7. Rita Robertshaw · · Reply

    Oooops – just read David Rainbird’s post!!! I must agree with David about the very small print stating that it’s suitable for vegetarians.

  8. LaylsUK · · Reply

    I’ve also been a fan of Tesco Value veggie hard cheese but it suddenly seems to have disappeared!? I have emailed them so will see what they say but have also noticed that a lot of Tesco healthy living desserts etc are no longer vegetarian. Have they employed a product manager that is not veggie friendly?! Very disappointing as I have always done most of my shopping there.

    1. That seems very strange. When I get the chance I’ll try and find out some more from Tesco for you.

      1. Rita Robertshaw · ·

        Hi there

        When you are able to buy it again, why don’t you do what I do? Buy three packs and freeze two. It freezes well in my opinion.

        Sorry if you live in Bradford – it’s me who buys up their stock!!!

      2. LaylsUK · ·

        Ha ha. No, it’s not available online currently. I have sent Tesco three messages now and am still waiting for a reply. Not impressed with them at all as needed to make plans. Tesco do appear to have gone rather veggie unfriendly which is a real shame! Will post again once I finally get to the bottom of the Tesco product. If anyone finds any other alternatives do please let us know. I see Sainsbury’s veggie one is now back online.

  9. rakhee · · Reply

    Just went into Sainsburys today after seeing your post & the hard cheese is back to being veggie! I had no idea Sainsburys did this until today, I’m so happy! Thank you 🙂

  10. Cherub Dairy Free Parmesan Substitute 60g

    Vegan powdered parmesan cheese – the dairy free finishing touch for your pasta dishes.

    http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/364919_Cherub_Dairy_Free_Parmesan_Substitute_60g.html

    1. Thanks Christine!

      1. Rita Robertshaw · ·

        Hmmm – I’ve tried the alternative parmesan cheese offered by Morrisons – sweaty socks doesn’t come into it!!!!!! Yuk.

        If I can find that this ‘substitute’ is better than Tesco’s basic one (OK, not vegan but neither am I) I’ll use this instead. Thanks for the info.

        Reet xx

  11. catorama · · Reply

    In Italy they sell vegetarian parmesa, one is Verdiano cheese, shame it’s not imported in UK 😦

  12. Hello to the board I would like to offer a kosher pecorino Italian Yotveta which is the nearest equivalent to Parmesan, and as its kosher does not contain any animal fats

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