I mentioned before that I was a vegetarian for about 4 years during my late teens. I remember being shocked to find out how many foods that you are certain are vegetarian may not actually be vegetarian. What do you mean vegetarian cheese? What do you mean not all wine is vegetarian? What do you mean there is stuff from cow’s bones in my fizzy cola bottles? Yes, the last discovery was probably the one that hit hardest. I felt like I would rather I just didn’t know. So I really hope anyone reading this who is vegetarian was already well aware of this because I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news – particularly since I’m no longer vegetarian. I have never felt so guilty writing a blog post

The reason why I’m doing this post on vegetarian cheeses is because last weekend I made a vegetable broth – I’ll be putting up the recipe next week – using some of one of those vegetable broth mixes, you know the ones that contain a mixture of barley, split peas, red lentils and marrowfat peas? Like cooked beets I have bought packets of these in the past and ended up having to throw them out because I never used them in time, which, considering that they have a shelf life of about 2 years, is pretty poor. I absolutely love the Beetroot, Orange & Mustard Soup. I make it every couple of weeks, and that came about because I was determined never again to let a packet of cooked beets go past their sell-by-date. The vegetable broth turned out quite well and I was confident that I had another recipe for abitmoreveg but then I added something to it…

I was planning on giving up dairy and foods with gluten and/or refined sugar once the holidays were over. If I’m going to do a detox I don’t throw out the “contraband” items, I make sure to use them up before the detox starts. I had some Parmesan cheese to use up and so I grated some into the soup. How good was it? It was so good that I kicked the whole idea of doing the detox to the curb.

Suddenly the perfectly good and wholesome tasting vegetable broth was nowhere near good enough to blog about. It had to include the Parmesan. The problem is that Parmesan cheese must include animal rennet in order to be called Parmesan cheese. Of course there are vegetarian versions of the cheese but they cannot be called Parmesan cheese. That’s the law. On the one hand I find the fact such things are actually codified into law hilarious but then, on the other hand, I can’t help but be impressed by this commitment to retaining the qualities of the original product.

I was vaguely hopeful that Grana Padano, which is widely available in supermarkets, would be vegetarian, but any that I checked did contain animal rennet. I knew that Sheridans Cheesemongers have a vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, Gran Kinara, so I went there for the cheese and while I was there I picked up three other gorgeous vegetarian cheeses. Now, it may well be possible to find a vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese at your local supermarket, but rather than hitting all the supermarkets around here – there are quite a few – I decided to go straight to the cheesemongers. And really I’m glad I did. You can taste all the cheeses before buying and I bought some Knockdrinna Brewer’s Gold, which I never had before – it has a really strong taste and I love it, and some Knockdrinna Meadows, which is really mild and sweet, sort of like an opposite, and so a perfect complement, to the Brewer’s Gold.

Also, it occurred to me that if I was making a special meat dish I would go to a butchers so why not go to a cheesemongers for a special cheese?

So I bought the four cheeses below. There were a couple other vegetarian ones to choose from but these were the ones I liked best.

Gran Kinara – It’s vegetarian and I’m not able to taste much difference, if any, between it and Parmesan.

Gran Kinara – This is a hard, Italian cheese made from cow’s milk. I can’t tell the difference between this cheese, Parmesan or Grana Padano. Cheese connoisseurs will tell you there is subtle but definite difference between the three, but I’m pretty sure most people would be hard pressed to detect it during a blind taste test. But the important difference here for vegetarians is that this cheese is made with Artichoke Thistle rather than animal rennet. Believe it or not it’s also lactose-free.

**Update: Sadly, Sheridans are no longer stocking Gran Kinara – or at least they are not stocking it at the moment (Dec, 2015). If you are looking for a vegetarian Parmesan style cheese the Vegetarian Society of Ireland offer these two suggestions; “A) Twineham Grange from Bookham & Harrison in West Sussex, England, which we have been buying on line at www.bookhamharrison.co.uk and B) Gran Moravia (made in the Czech Republic for an Italian Company called Brazzale) which is available in Dunnes Stores nationwide. Both cheeses are “Vegetarian Society Approved” in the UK.”

A very ripe Knockdrinna Brewer’s Gold – like a very pungent brie.

Knockdrinna Brewer’s Gold – This cheese is rind washed in ales and beers by Irish craft brewers. I have no idea what that means. I don’t even know how the rind develops on cheese – but if I ever manage to buy some place in the country with a few sheep I’ll be sure to find out. Until then I’ll carry on in blissful ignorance. This is another cow’s milk cheese but this one is soft and very very pungent, you will need to wrap it up well before putting it in the fridge. I love it. It’s not at all sweet. It’s almost got sort of the aftertaste of beer in it – which may not sound good – but if you love strong tastes you’ll should love this.

Knockdrinna Meadows: A semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese. Sweet and mild.

Knockdrinna Meadows – This cheese is as sweet and mild as their Brewer’s Gold is bold and pungent. It’s a sheep’s milk cheese which seem to be less acidic than cow’s milk ones. I love this one also and while I’m not sure that everyone would love the Brewer’s Gold I’m sure most people would like this one as it is so gentle in taste while still having a distinctive flavour. I also love how it’s like the opposite of the Brewer’s Gold. I think they pair well together, if you’re making up a cheese board and having some fruit and wine. I’m getting hungry…

crozier-blue cheese
Crozier Blue: A very ripe sheep’s milk blue cheese.

Crozier Blue – This is another Irish vegetarian cheese, made with sheep’s milk, and it’s blue. Blue cheese you’re either a fan or you’re not, personally I like it. I think most blue cheeses are vegetarian but I’m not sure. So I think it’s one of the safe options. I’ve already had some of this in a quick salad today. Lovely.

A simple salad of baby peppery salad leaves, pear and blue cheese, dressed in a little honey mixed with some lemon juice and freshly ground pepper.
A bowl full of vegetable broth topped with some Gran Kinara shavings.