Parmesan Is the Most Controversial Cheese. Here’s Why

Ask about Parmesan cheese and you may seemingly get a spread of solutions relying on who you ask and the place you might be whenever you ask them. That salty packet of Parmesan powder that accompanies your favourite meal equipment or holds courtroom on the counter of your native pizza parlor could style good, but it surely barely resembles the cheese as imagined by its Italian originators. Turophiles, cooks, cheesemongers and trade folks consult with actual Italian Parmesan as “Parmigiano Reggiano.” The rest made and marketed merely as “Parmesan” cheese within the US is usually of a decrease normal and is commonly scoffed and snickered at. 

However even actual Parmigiano Reggiano is not at all times what it appears. Fraudulent gross sales of the stuff grew to become so extreme that it compelled the 900-year-old trade to strike again with a surprisingly trendy answer. 

There’s rather a lot to kind out with regards to Parmesan and the various iterations of this extremely regarded onerous cheese. Here is all the things you could find out about American Parmesan vs. Parmigiano Reggiano and the way to make sure you’re getting the great things — or at the least what you paid for.

Learn extra: A Cheesemonger Reveals: This Is How You Ought to Really Retailer Your Cheese

What’s so particular about Parmigiano Reggiano?

In Italy, the place this nutty, sharp and salty cheese type originates, the time period “Parmesan” is tightly regulated, much like Champagne in France, and any cheese designated and offered as such should meet excessive requirements for manufacturing. 

The phrase Parmesan is broadly the English translation of Parmigiano Reggiano, however in America, that is about the place the similarities finish. The particulars surrounding Parmesan manufacturing are vastly completely different than in Italy. In different phrases, it is nearly fully unregulated, and people $4 blocks of “Parmesan” or (gulp) canisters of Parmesan powder you are grabbing within the dry items, cheese or dairy aisle pale compared to the actual stuff. You may even contemplate them a special cheese altogether — and lots of do. 

Though Parmesan can imply cheese of wildly various high quality, cheese offered and labeled as “Parmigiano Reggiano” within the US should come from certainly one of 5 areas in Italy — Parma, Modena, Bologna, Mantua or Reggio Emilia — and cling to strict requirements because it pertains to elements, manufacturing strategies and ageing. 

parmesan cheese being made in vat

Making actual Parmesan cheese is a labor of affection utilizing meticulous, hands-on strategies which are many centuries outdated. 

Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium

Genuine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made utilizing solely three elements, certainly one of which is milk from cows raised within the area and fed solely meals grown within the area. Not like different Parmesans made and offered within the US, there’s additionally a large checklist of meals the cattle cannot be fed resembling fermented grain. Parmigiano Reggiano should be aged for at the least a 12 months, however most is aged for 2 or three years and infrequently even aged longer, as much as 100 months or extra. Parmesan made within the US and different locations has no such ageing necessities.

These stringent Italian cheese legal guidelines for cheese and different DOP (Protected Designation of Origin, when translated to English) meals are the legislation of the land and have been put in place to guard the integrity of the sacred merchandise as they grew in reputation and loved exportation around the globe. Different Italian DOP exports embody Modena balsamic vinegar, San Marzano tomatoes and Parma ham. If you understand how to learn labels, they work: Recognizing a DOP marking ensures you are getting an genuine meals merchandise made with requirements enforced with austerity. 

How are you aware you are getting ‘actual Parmesan’ from Italy?

rind of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on cutting board

These pin-dot phrases will probably be on the rind of each genuine wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano.

David Watsky/CNET

For began, something marketed as Parmesan within the US is nearly undoubtedly not Parmigiano Reggiano, aka the great things. All genuine Parmigiano Reggiano is marked with pin-dot lettering that spells all of it out for you, fairly actually. ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ will probably be stamped into the rind of each wheel of cheese that comes from of the area and meets DOP requirements. Parmigiano Reggiano wheels additionally function a novel alphanumeric monitoring code. Distributors right here will hack the 70- to 80-pound wheels into smaller chunks, making it tougher to learn the pin-dot letters, however the ID quantity ought to make its option to the sticker or label. You will additionally wish to search for the DOP label which ought to accompany each professional portion of cheese. Retailers cannot legally promote it as Parmigiano Reggiano with out these stamps of high quality. 

There’s a lot faux cheese that they are microchipping wheels 

label Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

This label has all of the stamps and markings usually discovered on genuine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Sam’s Membership

All that analog authentication hasn’t stopped some from attempting to beat the system with faux variations of the actual stuff. The truth is, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium estimated round $2 billion in faux counterfeit gross sales per 12 months, which is sort of as a lot as gross sales of the real article. To battle again, it began slapping silicon microchips known as p-Chips and QR codes on cheese wheels in 2022 to raised monitor the product and suss out imposter merchandise and counterfeit operations. This system continues to be in its infancy however the hope is that it’s going to considerably decrease the possibilities of faux cheese ending up in your buying cart. 

Is Parmigiano Reggiano higher than Parmesan?

parmesan cheese on board

Overlook the farfalle. Genuine Italian Parmesan cheese is commonly eaten all by itself

David Watsky/CNET

Whereas it is made utilizing the same type to the sanctioned stuff, Parmesan cheese within the US can imply many issues and is tough to outline. Sometimes, cheese labeled Parmigiano Reggiano is of upper high quality (and value) than something marked “Parmesan.” Parmigiano Reggiano is simpler to explain because it’s all made in just about the identical method utilizing explicit elements, instruments and manufacturing strategies. 

For those who do not buy Parmigiano Reggiano, you are seemingly consuming American-made imitation Parmesan cheese. There’s nothing inherently unsuitable with it; some are excellent and are available from high quality producers. However attempt a chew of low-cost, generic, non-DOP Parmesan, then nibble on some genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, and you may see why it is known as the “king of cheese.” Relying on the size of time aged, this semi-hard cheese develops crunchy amino acid clusters (taste crystals) and packs a fancy umami punch with fruity, buttery, acidic and grassy notes that develop within the mouth. 

The ‘different guys’: Pecorina Romano and Grana Padano

After all, the entire labor that goes into producing Parmigiano Reggiano makes for a pricier product than different Parmesan-style cheese, which has given rise to different Italian onerous cheeses together with Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano. Each are made in the same type and have like style profiles, however are made below much less stringent requirements and so may be crafted and offered for considerably much less. For those who grate a variety of cheese over your pasta each month and are eager to avoid wasting a couple of bucks on the grocery retailer, both one is a advantageous substitute for Parmigiano Reggiano.

However there’s nothing fairly like Parmigiano Reggiano, which stands up superbly to wines, fatty meats, good balsamic and ripe tomatoes or different fruit. Right here, many consider Parmesan as one thing that is casually grated over pasta or a caesar salad. In Italy and different discerning cheese circles, you may discover the stuff served on cheese boards with apertivo to be eaten as is or served alongside fancy meats and olives.

So, end up a hunk of the actual stuff (or a whole wheel if you happen to’ve bought three grand mendacity round.) It’s going to final for a really very long time if you deal with it with care, and Parmigiano Reggiano would not even have to be refrigerated (!). 

Lengthy dwell the king. 

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