Who doesn’t love Parmesan cheese? You can grate it over pasta, shave it over risotto, or stab off chunks from it to enjoy with a nice Sangiovese.
The Role of the Italian Government and Parmigiano-Reggiano
It is the king of Italian cheeses, and its salty, slightly nutty components are so often imitated that the Italian government has stepped in to declare that anything not from the North-Central regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia cannot call itself real Parmesan cheese at all.
If that last fact caught you off-guard, we’ve got some more cocktail-party-impressive trivia about this unassuming wheel of yumminess you may find interesting.
Are Paremesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano the same thing?
First of all, it’s not properly called “Parmesan,” but “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” named after the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy in which it has been produced using roughly the same recipe for over 700 years.
Yup: the Parmigiano-Reggiano you eat today is the very same cheese King Charles V and Napoleon himself ate way back when. Parmegiano-Reggiano is the good stuff; “Parmesan” is what the French dubbed it, and what got carried over into our lexicon.
No, the real deal is inspected by a master grader with the Italian Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano at twelve months of age. This highly scientific inspection involves this guy going around to all the cheese rounds and thumping them with a hammer.
That’s it. That’s the test. He listens for impurities… in cheese. And you thought there was fluff in your job?
At any rate, if the cheese round (each and every one of them gets inspected, by the way) passes this test, its rind gets branded with the Consorzio’s logo, letting the buyer know the cheese they are about to take home has gotten the seal of approval from the entire nation of Italy.
The Italian Region of Parma and Pig Feed
Now, for some really fun trivia: the Parma region producing the cheese is the same Parma region that produces the world-famous Prosciutto di Parma ham.
Only quasi-impressive knowledge at the surface, sure, but traditional farms producing Parmigiano-Reggiano kept their pigs close by their cheese bins, and would feed them the leftover whey from the vats of curd they’d make during the process.
So, leftover protein from great cheese derived from grass-fed cows under scrupulous restrictions going to feed pigs under identically strict observation? No wonder that pork is so succulent.
The Role of Salt
Lastly – and perhaps even most surprisingly – is the fact that the only additive allowed in real Parmigiano-Reggiano is salt. That’s it. And all of the salt added is absorbed by the cheese in the first twenty (20) days of curing.
There’s no crazy-sounding, hard-to-pronounce methyl-xantha-whatever; just salt. Try reading the back of that green bottle you shake over your pasta, and your tongue will get cramps.
Genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano costs you a bit more than some of your other options, but since its flavor is so unique and intense, you don’t need as much of it as you would the lesser stuff.
And if you add paper-thin shavings of it into a hot cream or tomato sauce, it will melt right in; the other stuff just floats.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is in the pantheon of great foods that both identify a cuisine and a culture.
It is never manufactured with quality as an afterthought, and each maker does its best to outdo their competition – every wedge or wheel you buy is guaranteed top quality, a representation of the facility that made it.
You’re essentially buying pride… that tastes delicious.