The definitive guide to Italy’s favorite cheese.
There’s no cheese that embodies Italian cooking more than Parmigiano. From topping pasta to flavoring soups, parm is the all-purpose workhorse of the Italian kitchen, and it’s the ingredient Americans think of first when they think of my home cuisine. That popularity, though, has led to an abundance of parm products in your grocery store cheese section, all with slightly different names or forms. Are they all the same thing?
Short answer: no. Though each product has its place in your kitchen, it’s not a good idea to substitute one for another; each has a different set of properties that change how it acts (and tastes!) in a recipe. To help you shop smarter, here’s a quick guide to the parms you’re most likely to find in a dairy aisle near you.
Pregrated Parmesan: An easy way to skip a step in any recipe, the tubs of grated parmesan cheese you find in the cheese section are a convenience product that save you time, if not money. Useful if you’re making something that calls for a large amount of grated cheese and are short on time; however, it can take longer to melt, so take your cooking time into consideration before sprinkling this stuff into your sauce.
Parmesan: Because the parmigiano reggiano name is restricted to cheese from a specific region in Italy, the same cheese made in other places must be called something else. In the U.S., it’s parmesan, and while this domestic product is made in the same way, its quality is not as closely controlled as the Italian version. It’s often milder in flavor and smoother in texture; there are some very good domestic parmesans out there, but you’ll have to taste a few to find the one you like. The good news is it costs up to 2/3 less than the Italian version, so if you need a lot, you won’t break the bank!
Parmigiano Reggiano: The king of cheeses! To earn the parmigiano reggiano name, cheesemakers must meet some pretty high standards; the cheese can only be produced in the Parma region of Italy, using milk from cows that primarily graze on grass. Before a wheel can be sold, it’s tested for quality, so there’s never any guesswork when you’re opening your wallet. With an intense, nutty flavor, a little goes a long way (thank goodness, because it’s not cheap!). Use this as a finishing cheese on salads, on a cheese board, or on dishes where you need just a little and want the flavor to stand out.
Article by Giada De Laurentiis