Parmigiano Reggiano is more than a cheese in Italy: it’s a lifestyle, a cult, a uber-food, and the ultimate mother’s remedy for all diseases! We use Parmigiano in so many ways, sometimes it’s hard to track them all!
Historical evidence shows that in 1200-1300 AD Parmigiano Reggiano cheese had reached its present production standards. However, mentions of Parmigiano are present in much earlier writings: Roman authors, writing in Latin, mention this cheese!
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels are the biggest in the world- each weights 39kg, 86lbs, for a diameter of 18in and a height of 9in. In stores, you will sometimes see a wheel of Parmigiano as a stand for other cheeses! Each wheel is made with 145 gallons of milk from cows fed exclusively grass and whey from a specific area included between Bologna and Parma. The usage of the term “Parmesan” in Europe is strictly regulated based on its origin and production method. In the US Parmesan is unfortunately used as a generic term and products that have nothing to do with real Parmesan can be called such. That’s’ why I like to use the term Parmigiano, to get rid of all ambiguity!
A tour in a Parmigiano making facility is a wonderful experience- from the initial copper vats process to the brining to the resting, it is a fascinating sight. The cheese wheels are seasoned for a minimum of 12 months, yielding the nuovo label for the end result. The prime age for Parmigiano is at 24 months, when it called vecchio, and any wheels left to season for more than 24 months is called stravecchio. You can find stravecchio at Costco.
Characteristics of Parmigiano are its straw-colored paste, its “scaly” texture (the cheese breaks off as if it was layered), and a salty taste typical of umami, the fifth taste. Each wheel carries its own ID that identifies the producer, the date of production, and the area where the Parmigiano comes from. To be sure you are buying real Parmigiano, look at the rind: it is supposed to be covered in pre-punched dots bearing the inscription “PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO”.
Doctors in Italy recommends Parmigiano to children, elderly and nursing mothers, as its chemical characteristics make it highly digestible and very nutritious. We use it grated over pasta and in risotto, in scales over carpaccio, in savory cakes and gnocchi and pasta fillings, and alone (maybe with a drop of balsamic vinegar) as a snack. It is the one ingredient I can’t stand to be missing when I cook- and finding it has gotten easier and easier in the Bay Area!
A.G. Ferrari carries it, as well as Costco, Draegers, Whole Foods, Lucca, Cosentino, Zanotto, and many of the smaller specialty places. Thankfully it is not as hard as it used to be to find the original Parmigiano!! Resist the temptation to buy it grated, as often time you will not be able to tell if it is real Parmigiano you’re buying. Grab a chunk and grate it just before you need it to preserve the flavor… your dishes will shine with the addition of this royal cheese!
Filed under: Traditional Foods