With the internet's recent discovery that real Parmigiano Reggiano is made with rennet and is therefore not suitable for vegetarians, cheesemongers everywhere are now fielding questions from customers in search of vegetarian-friendly cheese. Aside from reminding them of the classic nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffett eating her curds and whey, here are some ways to streamline your rennet-based sales interactions.
First, it's helpful to dispel any internet-derived rumors about rennet by explaining the basics to your customer. For anyone who needs a refresher: coagulation is the first step of cheesemaking, separating the solids (curds) from the liquid (whey) so that the solids can be manipulated in different ways, eventually resulting in cheese. Some cheeses are lactic- or acid-coagulated, meaning that the action is caused by lactic acid bacteria present in the milk. But many cheeses, including most hard or aged cheeses, are made with rennet. Rennet-coagulated cheeses use animal (or "traditional"), microbial, or vegetable-based rennet.
Traditional rennet is derived from the 4th stomach, or abomasum, of a young ruminant animal. Vegetable-based rennet can be derived from plant-based sources like thistle, and microbial rennet is grown in a lab using live organisms like mold, yeast, or fungi.
Each version has benefits - while traditional rennet is better for longer-aged cheeses, microbial rennet is suitable for vegetarians, and is also cheaper to produce, which decreases the cost of cheesemaking. Thistle rennet is more common in torta-style cheeses from Spain and Portugal, and lends an herbaceous flavor to the cheese. Some cheesemakers use combinations of different types of rennet to achieve their desired texture and flavor.
It's also helpful to have a list on hand that contains all the vegetarian-friendly cheeses available in your case. It's easy to reference a list when a customer inquires, instead of frantically Googling different cheeses or having to check every sign in the case. You can add to the list as time goes on for a more comprehensive reference for the mongers working the counter.
You can also add this bit of information to your case signs along with the standard information about producer, milk type, and heat treatment. For more information about custom cheese case signs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, there is no sales technique more effective than sampling. The USA produces the highest number of vegetarian rennet cheeses in the world, second only to Portugal, so these cheeses are usually a safe bet. You might even introduce your customer to their new favorite cheese!
Once you've cut your customer's cheese, be sure to wrap it in Formaticum professional cheese paper to preserve the flavor and keep it healthy in the fridge.