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:
- Twineham Grange Vegetarian Pasta cheese from Bookhams is lovely and can be bought online and from Waitrose.
- The Better Food Company in Bristol stocks some tasty vegetarian-friendly Parmesan-like cheese.
- Whole Foods stores, which seem to be growing in number across the UK, also have a couple of varieties of vegetarian Italian hard-cheese.
- Biona Organic Montello Parmesan Style Cheese does the job and can be found in some health food shops.
- Colla Vegetarian Italian Cheese Stick, from Ocado (and Waitrose) is also lovely.
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.”