The Golden Wheel

Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the most beloved cheeses in the world and rightfully so. Whether eaten on its own or incorporated into soups and pastas, it’s an ingredient to be celebrated.

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This labor intensive cheese was first made many centuries ago by Benedictine monks. Today, it is one of Italy’s biggest exports, produced within a strictly delineated region of the country. Its sharp, nutty flavor is prized among cheese connoisseurs and you might be surprised by the unique production process.   

PARMESAN VS PARMIGIANO REGGIANO

Parmesan cheese can be used as a generic label for any hard grating cheese, made from cow's milk. Authentic Parmesan cheese is called Parmigiano Reggiano and is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese in the European Union, which legally mandates that the cheese be produced in specified regions of northern Italy. The regions of production are: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantova. 

Many cheeses labeled as Parmesan have different qualities and nutritional components.  They are also processed differently from authentic Parmigiano Reggiano and can be sold shredded or grated, unlike the real deal. The production of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is extremely labor intensive and highly regulated. A billion dollar industry, wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano can cost upwards of $1000 (USD) and weigh an average of ninety pounds. 

A billion dollar industry, wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano can cost upwards of $1000 (USD) and weigh an average of ninety pounds.

In order to be labeled authentic, it must be made using a blend of two different types of cow's milk – full cream and skim. Moreover, the milk must come from cows that are only fed grass and hay, which creates a unique flavor and texture in the cheese. Additionally, it is required that it be aged for a minimum of twelve months and must not contain any artificial flavorings or additives. The only ingredient that can be added to Parmigiano Reggiano is salt, which can enhance its flavor. 

After the cheese has been aged, an appointed inspector will check that it meets the requirements and, if so, identify it as authentic Italian Parmesan cheese with a stamp known as the ‘Consortium's seal,’ which provides the production date and dairy ID number.

CULINARY USES

Parmesan has a granular texture that places it into the category of “grana” cheeses. Grana refers to a family of hard, mature and low moisture cheeses from Italy that have a flakey texture and are mainly used for grating. Another type of grana cheese is Grana Padano which has its own DOP and is produced in the Lombardy region of Italy. 

Parmesan Cheese has a sharp, nutty flavor and is often used as a grating cheese. It is wonderful sprinkled into soup and shredded over a salad, but it is ideal for grating over pasta or risotto. In fact, it is very common for Italian families to leave a block of Parmigiano cheese on the table, along with a grater, at dinner time. 

You can also use Parmesan cheese in sauces like pesto and Alfredo and it pairs very well with veal and chicken dishes. For an indulgent treat, cut it into large chunks and drizzle with a high quality balsamic vinegar. Whatever you do, don’t throw out the rind. Instead, add it into soups and stews to add flavor to the broth.