Is Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) HARAM or HALAL?

Khadija Ahmed

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August 21, 2023
Muslim woman eating parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese, known as Parmigiano Reggiano in Italian, is a hard, granular cheese that originates from the Provinces of Parma in Northern Italy.

But if you're the type of person that sprinkles this beautiful cheese on top of every dish, whether Italian or not, then you may have heard worrying comments from Islamic scholars disputing whether parmesan cheese is halal or haram under Islamic law.

In this article we'll delve into how this cheese is derived from cow's milk, what microbial rennet is, and ultimately tell you whether parmesan is a halal cheese or not.

So, how is parmesan cheese actually made?

Factory worker making parmesan cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano was first produced by Benedictine monks over a millennium ago and originates from a region in Italy known as Reggio Emilia. The hard cheese is widely celebrated for its sharp, salty flavour and texture. It is traditionally made from cow's milk, which is curdled using a specific enzyme called rennet. The process involves the separation of whey from the curd, which is then moulded into large wheels and aged for an extended period until it becomes a hard cheese.

Parmesan cheese's production process follows stringent guidelines, ensuring its authenticity and quality. Only specific regions in Italy are authorised to produce this cheese, utilising time-honoured techniques that have been passed down for generations.

What are the different types of parmesan cheese?

Different types of halal parmesan cheese

Within the European Union food industry, you can only use the term 'Parmesan' when referring to Parmigiano Reggiano itself, and therefore the cheese is also known under names like Parmigiana, Parmesana, Parmabon, Real Parma, Parmezan, and Parmezano.

Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are marked with a unique identification number, indicating their origin and adherence to rigorous production guidelines. The cheese boasts a rich, nutty flavor and crumbly texture, making it a favorite among connoisseurs and chefs worldwide.

The major food brand Kraft Foods creates Kraft cheeses called "Pamasello" (their own Kraft parmesan cheese) that sells in Europe, but in order to qualify as such cheese, it has to be an aged cheese (cured for around 10 months), contain 32% water at most and have at least 32% milkfat in its solids.

What exactly is rennet?

Rennet is a key component in the cheese-making process, as it aids in coagulating milk and transforming it into curds. These microbial enzymes are typically extracted from the stomach lining of young animals, such as calves, and serves a vital role in many hard cheese varieties, including parmesan and cheddar cheeses.

Is rennet halal or haram?

Making of Parmigiano Reggiano in a factory

The question of rennet's halal status arises from the use of animal rennet and therefore animal enzymes. Islamic dietary laws state that the consumption of certain animal-derived products is restricted to halal animals, making it crucial to determine whether rennet qualifies as halal. There are two types of source of rennet to consider:

  1. Animal-Sourced Rennet: This type of rennet is extracted from the stomachs of young animals and may raise concerns among Muslim consumers due to its source. Some scholars argue that consuming any product derived from animals not slaughtered according to the Islamic way is not permissible (haram). On the other hand, opinions vary, as some consider it acceptable based on the principle of permissibility for non-intoxicating and non-harmful animal food products.

  2. Microbial or Plant-Based Rennet: As an alternative, some cheese producers employ microbial or plant-based rennet in the manufacturing process, which does not involve animal products. This type of rennet is considered halal by many Islamic scholars. Vegetable rennet is made from a type of mold (Mucur Miehei). However, even though it is derived from mold, there is no mold contained in the final product.

It is important to note that the labelling of cheese products may not always specify the type of rennet used. As a result, it can be challenging for consumers to determine the halal status of a certain type of cheese, including types of Parmesan cheese. To address this concern, some halal certification authorities provide guidance on rennet types, helping Muslim consumers make informed choices.

What does Islamic law say about parmesan cheese?

Islamic law emphasises the importance of halal and haram in matters of consumption. In the Quran, Allah instructs us:

"O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship." (Quran 2:172)

This verse reminds us to partake in permissible (halal) and wholesome foods, expressing gratitude for Allah's blessings. In particular, animal products become halal when they are slaughtered in the name of Allah and meet certain requirements, for example draining the blood. As such, it becomes essential for Muslims to discern the halal status of parmesan cheese based on its ingredients and manufacturing process.

In Islam, certain food items are explicitly labeled as haram (forbidden), including haram ingredients like pork, alcohol (which can be used in the production process of vanilla extract), and carrion. However, the matter becomes more complex when dealing with products like parmesan cheese that contain ingredients with ambiguous halal status, such as animal-derived rennet, where it's more about the interpretation of the meaning.

What do Islamic scholars say about Parmesan cheese?

Islamic scholars opinion on halal parmesan cheese

The question of whether parmesan cheese is halal has been a subject of debate among Islamic scholars. The primary concern lies in the use of animal-derived rennet in the cheese-making process.

Opinions among scholars vary, with some holding the view that parmesan cheese made with animal-derived rennet is not permissible (haram) due to its source. They argue that the use of rennet derived from non-halal slaughtered animals renders the cheese impure and unsuitable for Muslim consumption.

On the other hand, other scholars consider parmesan cheese acceptable (halal) based on the principle of permissibility for non-intoxicating and non-harmful animal products. They contend that the transformation of milk into cheese alters the nature of rennet, making it no longer part of the original impure substance.

It has been narrated in major hadith by Abdullah ibn ‘Umar that:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was brought cheese in the Battle of Tabuk. He asked for a knife, then recited “bismillah” and cut the cheese. [Abu Dawud]

It is crucial to note that the halal status of Parmesan cheese may vary depending on the source of rennet used in its production. As such, seeking guidance from knowledgeable scholars or halal certification authorities can help make an informed decision regarding Parmesan cheese consumption.

So, is parmesan cheese halal?

If you are a strict follower of halal dietary guidelines, you may choose to opt for cheese varieties that clearly state the use of microbial or plant-based rennet.

If your parmesan cheese, or Parmigiano Reggiano states this, then yes, it is halal and permissible to consume.

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