The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

10:21 PM

Food of the Day - Parmigiano Reggiano

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Parmigiano Reggiano
One of the most famous cheeses of all time, Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard cow's milk cheese that has been around for many hundreds of years.  While the term "parmesan" may be used to apply to all similar types of cheese, including this one, cheese actually labeled "Parmigiano Reggiano" legally must be crafted in specific areas of Italy, located around the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions. 
Note: Parma is also the region that creates the famous prosciutto di Parma, the most coveted type of prosciutto. 

While there are many types of cheese classified as parmesan, including Grana Padano, as well as less-true cheeses resembling parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano is well-known as the king of parmesan, and is the most authentic type of parmesan, as well as the most desired hard cheese in the world.  Cheese that is sold powdered, in containers, called parmesan in America, don't even remotely resemble this delicous, nutty and deeply-flavorful historic cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano is hand-crafted in large amounts in one of five places in Italy: Bologna, Montova, Modena, Parma, and Reggio Emilia, under strict rules.  To produce this cheese in another area with the name Parmigiano Reggiano is illegal, through designation of origin protections.  However, keep in mind that since this cheese is produced in different areas, the tastes can vary from type to type.
The cheese is made and placed into large circular forms and allowed to rest for a couple of days.  When the cheese is removed, it retains the distinctive cheese wheel shape, and it is imprinted with information designating it as true Parmigiano Reggiano. 

The cheese is brined for about three weeks, giving it its salty flavor, following which it is transferred to shelves, where the cheese wheels are stacked to the ceiling.  Here, the cheese is left to age for a year or longer before being inspected, cleaned, branded, and finally shipped.  Each wheel weighs about as much as a large dog, or about as much as the average twelve-year-old boy.
Choosing Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano should be purchased in block form.  Assuming you are not buying a whole 85-pound wheel, this cheese will usually be sold in chunks, which will be cut to have the rind intact.  Always buy cheese listed specifically as Parmigiano Reggiano, and that has the typical information printed clearly on the rind.  This denotes a true cheese, and not a knock-off or sub-standard version of the cheese you want.  Choose a cheese that is wrapped properly, and is free of mold.  The cheese should not look improperly dried-out, or moist or oily.  Good cheese should have a deep characteristic yellow color, and should not be beige in color.  The cheese should crumble when you break it, and should be fairly hard in texture.  Never buy this type of cheese pre-shredded, or (a horrid thought) powdered.  Parmigiano Reggiano should be purchased in blocks, and crumbled, grates, or sliced as needed.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a strong contender in its own right.  It can be eaten alone, or sliced and served with fruit and wine.  Also, try using it in a cheese board with other cheeses; it does not have to be shredded onto food, but does just fine on its own.
This cheese can be used in cooking, and in application on a wide variety of foods.  Try grating it on your pasta, shaving some onto a salad, or adding some to crusty bread rubbed with garlic and toasted, to make a delectable garlic cheese bread.
How to Incorporate It
While this cheese can be crumbled, its hard texture can make it difficult to obtain small crumbles.  Therefore, it is best to use some sort of grating instrument to incorporate this cheese into your dish.  Here are a few of the ways you can handle Parmigiano Reggiano:

Sliced - use a kitchen utility knife to slice of thin pieces to fit your liking, for a cheese selection or to pair with fruit
Shaved/Shredded - use a cheese shaver to shave off think pieces of the cheese to add to a salad, or to pasta.
Coarsely grated - use a hand-held coarse grater to grate cheese onto your favorite dish.
Finely grated - if you want these cheese to melt better, or have a more powdery texture in the mouth, use a more fine grater to incorporate the cheese into your dish.  This works well when adding it to a cooking dish where you desire melted cheese. 
The Taste Test
Not sure a fancy name and label make this cheese better than the typical American parmesan?  Is it worth the price?  In short... Yes!  Try taking some standard powdered parmesan from the store, and grating some Parmigiano Reggiano beside it.  Taste each of them, and the difference will be immediate and glaring.  There is simply no comparison.  Parmigiano Reggiano is the only parmesan I buy, ever (however, Grana Padano comes in at a close second if you cannot get your hands on the real thing).
True Parmigiano Reggiano has a deep, nutty and slightly spicy, salty flavor that is second to none in the parmesan department.  Once you try the real thing, you will never look back.

Cooking Idea
Try out this interesting recipe for a Grilled Parmigiano Sandwich, for a new twist on an old American classic.

Note: also, check out our cheeses of the world series, by Magic of Spice.  Visit Cheeses of the World   - Part Three (Italy).

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