Parmigiano Reggiano, the King of cheeses

Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian cheese that is as well known as it is tasty. 

You can eat it either whole or in small pieces. You can add it to pasta, to cooking mixtures, you can eat it with jams or fruits. 

Parmigiano Reggiano is so versatile that you can find it in many Italian foods as well as international recipes.

In this article you will learn about:

What kind of cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano?

Qualities and differentiations of a Parmigiano Reggiano, what to look for when buying

  • Ripening time
  • Cow breed
  • Production place
  • Type of production

Parmigiano Reggiano tasting

Why is Parmigiano Reggiano so tasty?

What kind of cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano?

Parmigiano Reggiano PDO is a slow-maturation, semi-fatty, hard cheese produced all year round from raw and semi-skimmed cow’s milk.

It has a hard pale-golden rind and a straw-coloured interior with a rich, spicy taste. It takes at least one year to get real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmigiano Reggiano labelled as stravecchio is three years old, while stravecchiones are four or more years old.

Its complex taste and grainy texture are the results of long ageing. Parmigiano-Reggiano is the “King of Cheeses” and Italians do not put this label on any cheese. It has a very strict set of rules to follow.
It is very nutritious and digestible because of its low lactose content.

The concentration of proteins, vitamins, calcium and mineral salts, make it a cheese suitable for all ages. And in any situation, a rich source of immediate energy.

The production area is the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena. Bologna to the left of the river Reno, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. And Mantua to the right of the river Po, in the region of Lombardy.

The characteristics of the soil in the defined geographical area and the historical importance of cheese in the local economy have resulted in the traditional art of cheese making.

Over nine centuries the cheese-making art passed on under local customs from the area. It is the best table cheese because of the richness and delicacy of its taste.

What to look for when buying Parmigiano Reggiano

Of course, each consumer has a taste. There are various types of differentiation, understanding this helps us to buy the Parmigiano Reggiano.

In my professional experience, I had the opportunity to visit many Parmigiano Reggiano establishments.

I always took the chance to ask the master cheesemakers which is, according to them, the best Parmigiano Reggiano.

My wonder was to know how to buy a good Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. I hope it can also help anyone who is reading this. And also to understand more about this cheese’s versatility in the kitchen and its uses.

Cheesemakers’ responses always vary between three factors:

  • cheese ripening time, 
  • breed of cow and 
  • production site.

There are also other distinctive qualities, such as organic production, or mountain production.

Ripening time  

The ripening time is the most distinctive feature that the consumer notices. Aromas and texture change as it increases. There are three main types of ripening identified with three different labels:

  • Lobster Red Seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 18 months old. It is possible to recognize the taste of the milk. Ideal for appetizers. Make yourself a favour, accompany this wonderful cheese with a dry white wine, such as a Malvasia dei Colli di Parma, and fresh fruit, such as green apples and pears.
  • Silver seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 22 months old. It is the classic Parmigiano Reggiano. You can feel notes of melted butter and fresh fruit, with slight hints of citrus and dried fruit. It is crumbly, granulated and well-soluble, sweet and tasty. It is crumbly, granulated and well-soluble, sweet and tasty. You can use it to fill pasta like ravioli or grate it to give an extra flavour to any pasta or risotto dish. Also, on salads, with fresh fruit or vegetables, with a few drops of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The right wine? Red, with medium structure.
  • Gold seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 30 months old, also known as ‘stravecchio‘. The taste is strong and complex: on the palate, you can feel the spicy and fruity notes. 

Cow breed

The breed of cow used for cheese production is also a distinctive feature. Currently, for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano, we use the Friesian breed. But, there are two breeds that represent a niche market. These breeds produce less, but they have particular characteristics:

  • Reggiana or ‘Vacca Rossa’ This breed was partially abandoned because of its lower yield. It produces cheese for long-aged cheeses lovers, as it maintains a sweet, delicate and persistent taste. And the organoleptic properties are different, characterized by a yellow straw colour, an elastic grain, and an intense but delicate aroma even after more than thirty months of maturation.
  • Bruna breed The high fat (about 4%) and protein content (3.5 – 3.8%) is the added value of the Bruna breed. A combination not found in other breeds and species raised in the world.

Production site

The value of Parmigiano Reggiano di Montagna PDO is the production territory. Preserving the more than 100 artisan cheese dairies located in mountainous areas. Sixty per cent of the dairy cows feed comes from the mountain areas. That gives the final product the intrinsic qualities of the territory.

parmigiano reggiano cow

By consuming Parmigiano Reggiano di Montagna PDO, we know we are preserving and enhancing a rustic and vulnerable territory.

Type of production 

The production of Parmigiano Reggiano Biologico PDO is carried out according to the principles of organic agriculture. This means that the food comes from organic agriculture, animal welfare is respected, and the rennet used is free of preservatives. Also, the production is carried out in separate boilers from other production processes especially for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano Biologico DOP. 

Parmigiano Reggiano tasting

You can eat Parmigiano-Reggiano on its own, grated or in flakes. On top of pasta or risotto, as an appetizer, or at the end of the meal, accompanied by honey, fruit or vegetable compote. With aperitifs and cocktails, it enhances the flavour of dry liqueurs and moderates the effects of alcohol.

If consumed as is, you can combine it with:

  • White wines: Quite structured, smooth, quite warm, quite aromatic, persistent, even sparkling or foamy;
  • Red wines: Harmonious, not too ripe, full-bodied, with very balanced tannins and long aromatic persistence.

Why is Parmigiano Reggiano so tasty? 

Parmigiano Reggiano has a special taste that is even associated with the ‘fifth taste’. The umami taste is a Japanese word that means something rich and tasty. Umami is due to a substance which occurs naturally in Parmigiano Reggiano as well as in other foods, such as meat and broths. 

The umami itself has no taste at all, but it has the ability to enhance any flavour it is mixed with. In the food industry, it is known as a flavour enhancer. How does a food enhancer work? When you feel that a portion of pasta is a bit bland, if you add cheese or meat it suddenly seems very tasty. That’s the umami taste.

In some imitation cheeses where you don’t get the distinctive taste, some producers add the chemical substance responsible for the umami taste which is monosodium glutamate. This is added to recreate the same conditions that occur naturally in Parmigiano Reggiano.  

The king of cheeses

Parmigiano Reggiano is indisputably the king of cheeses because of its taste, versatility, variety, history, and indisputable relationship with Italy. For this reason, it is a Denomination of Origin and thus its production is controlled and delimited.

Thanks to the Consorzio di Tutela, the recipe and the way of production remain intact, as they did 900 years ago and we hope another thousand years more.

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5 Comments

  1. Hello, like your website, I’m a big fan of cheez, this one parmigiano I don’t know if it’s the same here in canada but I just love that cheeze on some pasta. Great article
    Lyne

  2. AJ

    I love cheese (wish my wife did too lol). This is fantastic, honestly, you can’t go wrong with any cheese, although I wish the smell was not as bad hahaha. Great read too. What’s your FAVORITE kind of cheese? Mine is smoked gouda

  3. Tom

    Hey,

    This is a really interesting article, as I have definitely heard about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese but I didn’t know a lot about it. Well, now I do after reading your article. I’m pretty sure that lots more people from all over the world will find your article so interesting too. My girlfriend loves to bring out this cheese when she is drinking wine, and when I share wine with her. I’m not a huge wine drinker, but when I do and we have this cheese with it, it does go very well together.

    I have a few friends who are huge wine drinkers but I don’t know if they have the cheese with it, so I have forwarded your article onto them. I have encouraged them to really look into it and try out this king of cheese.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.

    All the best,

    Tom

  4. Being a cheese lover this article on Parmigino Reggiano chesse really interests me, I must admit this chesse is totally new to me. Being in the USA is it possible to get your hands on this chesse, and if so do you know where someone from the USA could order this cheese and arrive and still be healthy to eat?

    Jeff

  5. SAM

    Hi Isabella,

    First of all, I LOVE cheese. I was smiling throughout my read. It’s nice to know more about Parmigiano Reggiano. You know how important this is for them when they are strict on the productions.

    In a way, we’ll get to enjoy the same high-quality taste and at the same time, preserve traditions.

    Loved this article. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers.
    SAM

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