All Hail the King of Cheese. Think you know what Parmesan is? Let us introduce you to the real thing.
Parma. It’s a city in the region of Emilia-Romagna. It’s also a prosciutto (Parma ham), and a cheese – or, as many believe, the king of cheeses – Parmigiano-Reggiano. The production of this famed hard, aged, cow’s milk cheese is closely governed by the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano in order to award it Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) status. To proudly bear the name Parmigiano-Reggiano, it may only be made in Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, and Mantova, under strictly enforced guidelines.
The making of Parmigiano-Reggiano is no joke
• Raw, grass- and hay-fed cow’s milk from the morning’s milking is heated, curdled, and placed into cheesecloth-lined moulds.
• The fresh cheese is then brined in a bath of water and Mediterranean sea salt for 20 to 25 days, then aged for 12 months. Every week, the wheel is turned by hand or machine.
• Each wheel is inspected by the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano and is either granted the heat-branded seal or deemed unworthy of the DOP classification. After this, the cheeses are generally aged for about another two years.
In North America, cheeses labeled “parmesan” are most likely not the real deal; it can denote anything from a cheese-like food product to a cheese made in the same style. So look for the full name – Parmigiano-Reggiano – on the label or right on the rind. Gram for gram, authentic Parmigiano packs a flavour punch. And it’s versatile – grating it over pasta is just the beginning. Try it grated over eggs, vegetables, soup, salads, risotto, polenta and crostini. Or, pile coin-sized mounds of grated parmesan on a baking sheet, bake for about 10 mins, and you’ve got a gourmet treat: parmesan crisps. Use a microplaner for the finest grating possible. Or use a vegetable peeler and shave a few ribbons ontop of salads or cooked vegetables. It’s also a nibble of heaven on a cheese plate with a drizzle of honey. Oh, and don’t let that rind go to waste! Drop it into soup, ragù or tomato sauce for a backbone of umami flavour.