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Parmigiano Reggiano vs Parmesan Cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano is the authentic Italian parmesan cheese made only in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Parmesan cheese in america are not allowed to be called Parmigiano Reggiano, hence the name parmesan cheese. What really sets these two cheese apart is the manufacturing process. True Parmigiano Reggiano needs to be certified by a self governing party called Consorzio. Consorzio have various regulation that independent cheese maker have to go through. Things such as equipment used, aging time and quality are all important factor for parmesan cheese to be actually Parmigiano Reggiano. The cheese maker themselves have to go through 10-12 years of apprenticeship in order to be certified. If the cheese pass inspection, they will get a official stamp stating that its true Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese.

What are the Regulations?

There are a tons of regulation that every cheese maker have to follow. While I cannot list all of them, here are some critical steps that cheese maker must follow. First and probably most important is the dairy. The cows itself cannot feed on anything that is fermented or silage. Milks cannot be pasteurized so only the highest quality of milk can do. Milk also have to be poured into vats by hand and no pump mechanism can be used.

The equipment used to cook the milk also needs to be made of copper kettle. While they say there is flavor benefit to these copper vats, they are mainly used because of its superior heat conductivity. In any production facility, you cannot have more than 7 kettle per one cheese maker. If you want to increase the amount of kettles, you need to hire more cheese maker.

During production, the starter needs to be made in house, they have to use some of the whey that was used in the prior day. When the cheese is being molded, a plastic stencil that says Parmigiano-Reggiano needs to be used. It is wrapped around the cheese and it will engrave the lettering all around it. This prevents counterfeit from being manufactured.

In the aging process, inspectors will come by and start tapping the cheese. The noise that the cheese make will tell the inspectors the quality of the cheese. A good cheese should sound solid and not hollow. Hollow noise will denote that it has gaps or cracks. Sometimes inspector will cut a sample to test the inside of the cheese. They can tell whether the cheese is good just with their noise. If it passes, the cheese will be stamped with Consorzio stamp.

Why is Parmigiano Reggiano so expensive?

The training that each cheese maker is not something to scoff at. Their education and skills is equivalent to that of a medical doctor in the USA. Each wheel of needs approximately 131 gallon of milk to make. The cheese needs to be aged at an average of two years but some can take up to ten years. You combine that with the regulation that they need to follow and the amount of labor involved, that results in the exuberant prices that you see.

How is Parmesan Cheese Made?

Because of the regulation involved, it is incredible difficult to make authentic parmeasn cheese. One of the most critical steps is keeping three key bacteria alive for flavor. These bacteria can be found in the grass that cows eat. The resulting milk that comes from these milk is then used to make Parmesan cheese. The milk is then cooked with skim milk then cooked in the copper vat. Things like Fermented Whey and Rennet from calves is then added.

The milk will then be split into curds to remove the excess moisture. This will eventually change the yogurt like texture into something more dense curd. They will then pool into the bottom of the kettle. Cheese maker will then extract it and mold it using linen cloth. Every two hours, the cloth will be changed until the stencils is finally applied. When the stencil is approved, the cheese is placed in brine for 19 days. This makes the outer hard section of the cheese. It is then left to age for at least two years. Once it passes inspection, it is then able to be sold.

Picking the Best Parmigiano Reggiano

When buying Parmigiano Reggiano, its best to look at the date of production. The month will be listed in Italian so it might be good to brush up on your Italian months. Generally, cheese that has been aged through two summers are the best.

If you select cheese that are in the month of summer, they will be more “Piquant and Golden”. Generally good for cooking things such as pesto.

Cheese made during Spring has more complex flavor but tend to be more drier. The milk made during these month does not have enough fat.

Cheese made during autumn is the most balanced in flavor and has the most butter fat. It has a very rich and full flavor. Which means you can eat it alone or with cooking. The best of both worlds.

Cheese made during the winter month are not as desirable as others. Although you might be able to get a better price for it.

Parmesan Cheese Grated or Shredded?

Parmesan cheese is best bough as a block. When you are ready to eat it, you can manually grate it for maximum flavor. Exposing the cheese to air will cause oxidization and reduce the amount of flavor. However, not all of us have the luxury of buying a block of cheese. In this situation, you have the option of buying pre grated or shredded cheese. There are some difference in the way its cooked and how it reacts. Since Parmesan cheese does not melt as readily as other type of cheese, if you intend on making sauces or using it in a dish, then the grated variety will be better. They can blend in the with the sauces a lot better than the shredded version.

Shredded Parmesan cheese on the other hand does have a little more flavor. Since the cheese will have less of a chance to oxidize, the flavor will be slightly better. But since it cant melt as well, shredded Parmesan cheese is best used as a topping. That is not to say you cant use it in sauce, it just a little more difficult to integrate into the sauce.

Parmesan Cheese Nutrition and Health

Parmeasn cheese uses milk in its production. While it is vegetarian, parmeasn is not vegan friendly. One thing that parmeasn have is its high concentration of glutamate, that contributes to its high umami flavor. This is why a lot of chef likes to use parmeasn cheese in their cooking. Parmesan cheese in gluten free as well.

In terms of calories, it is like most other cheese, dense in calories. Per 3.5 oz you can expect around 431 calorie. The good thing is that Parmesan cheese is mostly use as a topping or incorporated into a dish. Its generally not eaten whole due to its cost. Its unlikely to cause you to get fat if its used in cooking.

Below you will find some nutritional facts about Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition FactsValue
Serving Size100 g (3.5oz)
Calorie431 g
Total Fat29 g
Saturated Fat17 g
Trans Fat0g
Sodium1529 mg
Total Carbohydrate4.1g
Dietary Fiber0
Total Sugar0.9g

Parmesan Cheese Substitute

The only good substitue that you can get with Parmesan cheese is Pecorino Romano. It is made of sheep milk and has a sharper saltier taste. But I suspect that if you dont have Parmesan cheese, you want have Pecorino Romano. What I recommend you do is to find something that is high in glutamate. This will help boost the umami flavor in your dish. Things like soy sauce, anchovy paste, or even tomato are high in glutamate.

Does Parmesan Cheese go Bad?

Yes. You can usually store it for one year in the fridge. Because of its low moisture content, bacteria and mold is unlikely to form but not impervious. I have kept parmeasn cheese in the fridge for over a year without any issue. Having said that, its best to eat it within three weeks of purchase. The flavor will eventually get degraded.

If you buy the imitation Parmesan cheese then follow the packaging instruction. Since its white, you cant really tell if mold is formed until you eat it…

Parmigiano Reggiano Thoughts

Parmigiano Reggiano is a fantastic cheese. It is often use interchangeably with the name Parmesan cheese. However, there are stark difference in flavor, quality and price. True Parmesan cheese is hard to find so your choice often defaults to the powder kraft Parmesan cheese. Which is still better than nothing. Whichever one you get, its a great cheese to have in your pantry.


Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating

I hope you find my article on Parmigiano Reggiano to be helpful, please visit the Food Review page for more!

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