Apologies in advance for any vegetarians in the room but the internet has just clocked that parmesan cheese may actually have animal bits in it. So, is this really true? Should we be holding a moment of silence for all the cheese boards and bowls of spaghetti bolognaise that will be affected by this development? Let’s investigate.

Per a 2017 article by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), most parmesan cheeses contain an ingredient called “rennet”.

Rennet is made from the enzymes which are found in the stomach lining of calves (AKA baby cows).

According to cheesemaking.com (which I was baffled to learn is absolutely a real website), rennet is used to coagulate milk during the production process to form a thick curd.

According to this fascinating website, there are two types of rennet — animal and vegetable.

As PETA mentioned, the animal variety comes from the stomachs of calves, lambs and goats while the vegetable variety performs a similar chemical function but, unlike animal rennet, is suitable for vegetarians.

I then had a scroll on TikTok and found the below comment that argued that while parmesan is most likely vego, Parmigiano-Reggiano is not.

NO: The Internet Has Discovered Parmesan Cheese May Not Be Vegetarian & Everyone’s Panicking

For context, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cheese variety made according to a set of guidelines and can only be produced in specific regions of Italy. Kinda like Champagne but for cheese.

So, armed with this knowledge endorsed by sources on both sides of the ethical argument, I did some googling for supermarket parmesans to suss whether they contained rennet.

After a quick search, I could tell that all Parmigiano-Reggianos did indeed contain animal rennet in their ingredients list. So, bad news for any vegos with expensive taste.

On the other hand, the ingredients list for the less expenny parmesans at Coles and Woolies only indicated that they contained “enzymes”. They did not specify if these enzymes were of the animal or vegetable variety that we discussed earlier. Hmmmm.

In my internet surfing, I could only find one parmesan variety at Woolies that indicated it was made from non-animal rennet ie: suitable for vegetarians.

Given this, it’s difficult to conclusively say whether the enzymes present in most supermarket parmesans is animal or vegetable. Perhaps if you squint at the ingredients list in-store?

While this enzyme knowledge certainly isn’t new (at least, not to cheese producers), many folks on the internet have voiced their utter dismay after learning their favourite cheese may have no-go ingredients in it.

@sara.x.sarah

I learn too many things on here #vegetarian #fyp

♬ original sound – <3

@stefandrubie

I really didn’t need to know that. 🥲 & now we all do.. #vegetarian #parmesancheese #manchego #cheesetiktok #DoritosTriangleTryout #cheeseisnotvegetarian #fyp

♬ corn acoustic Evan Crommett – Evan Crommett

@c0wpr1nt4lyfe

I feel so betrayed rn y’all

♬ FAMOUS PEOPLE ARE USING THIS SOUND OMG – neptxnic

At the end of the day, it’s your money.

Personally, I think I’ll stick to my strict diet of coffee, hummus and two-minute noodles.

Image: alle12 via iStock