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Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) is the “King of Cheeses.” You can barely think of it without dreaming about mouthwatering pasta, risotto, and salad dishes. However, it’s more than just a delicious ingredient. Its history is as rich as its flavor.

In this article, we we’ll will take you through its origin, varieties, versatile culinary usage, nutritional advantages, and even help you identify parmesan cheese. Yes, without the supermarket label! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or home cook, this guide to Parmigiano Reggiano will cover everything you need to know about the King of Cheeses.

What is Parmesan Cheese?

parmesan cheese

It has a rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages. Its real and authentic name is Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s a cheese with distinctive flavor, crumbly texture, and versatility. Easy to see why it’s loved around the world!

You can only call it Parmigiano-Reggiano if it’s from Parma or Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Kind of like Champagne!

What is Parmesan Cheese made of?

To create authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, producers must stick to traditional methods and strict regulations. For example, it must use locally sourced cow milk from designated areas, traditional production methods, and comply with specific aging requirements.

The aging process typically lasts for 12, 24 or 36 months. Or even longer! This process allows the cheese to develop nutty, savory notes with a hint of saltiness.

What’s the easiest way to identify it? It’ll have a Parmigiano Reggiano seal on its rind.

Varieties and Grading

There are many varieties and grades of Parmesan cheese to suit different preferences or culinary needs.

Parmesan production outside of Italy

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. It’s a sign of its strict production process.

While the US-version is inspired by the original, it’s not subject to the same strict regulations. So it often has shorter aging periods and may have additives like cellulose to prevent caking. Also, its flavor can be milder, and its texture may differ slightly.

Grading System:

Parmesan cheese has a grading system based on the aging process:

  1. Stravecchio (extra aged) is aged for 36 months or more. It has an intense and crystalline texture with a deep, nutty flavor. It’s perfect for savoring on its own or grating over special dishes.
  2. Vecchio (aged) is aged for 24 to 36 months. It has a robust flavor with a slightly grainy texture. It’s excellent for grating over pasta, risotto, or salads.
  3. Fresco (fresh) is aged for 18 months or less. It has a milder, creamier taste an it’s ideal for melting into sauces or adding to lighter recipes.

Parmesan Cheese Substitutes

parmesan cheese

There are plenty of alternatives to Parmesan cheese:

Pecorino RomanoPecorino Romano is an excellent alternative for Parmesan in pasta dishes, salads, and soups. It has a sharp and salty flavor, but it has a more intense flavor.
AsiagoAsiago cheese works well as a substitute in baked dishes, salads, and as a pizza topping. It has a milder flavor but adds a pleasant creaminess.
Aged CheddarAged cheddar can be used in recipes that require a sharp cheese flavor. For example, macaroni and cheese or cheesy casseroles.
Aged GoudaAged Gouda can also be a suitable alternative for certain recipes, such as pasta and burgers.
Nutritional YeastNutritional yeast has gained popularity as a vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese. It’s used in vegan and vegetarian cuisine to add a cheesy and nutty flavor.

Vegan Parmesan Cheese

Vegan Parmesan is becoming increasingly becoming popular for vegans, vegetarians, and those with lactose intolerances. Let’s learn more!

And there are five popular types:

  1. Nut-based Vegan Parmesan is made from a blend of cashews, almonds, walnuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt. It has a crumbly texture and nutty taste.
  2. Cashew-based Vegan Parmesan has a creamy texture and mild flavor. A very typical recipe includes cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt.
  3. Almond-based Vegan Parmesan has a nuttier flavor. It’s often made with nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt.
  4. Store-bought Vegan Parmesan are made from a combination of plant-based ingredients like nutritional yeast, rice bran oil, nuts, and various seasonings.
  5. Coconut-based Vegan Parmesan uses dried and finely shredded coconut as the base. Even though it has a crumbly texture, its flavor doesn’t closely mimic the flavor of Parmesan.

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The Health Benefits of Parmesan Cheese

Good news! Like many other cheeses, Parmesan Cheese can be healthy if consumed in moderation. So let’s take a look at its nutritional value and health benefits.

Nutritional Value:

It’s a protein and calcium rich cheese. To put it another way, it can help support the growth of muscle, bones, teeth, nerve function, and muscle contraction. It’s also a great source of Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D.

Health Benefits:

  1. Bone health: Its high levels of calcium supports bone health and reducing the risk of bone diseases.
  2. Protein intake: The protein content in Parmesan cheese helps support muscle repair and growth.

Culinary Uses

parmesan cheese on spaghetti carbonara

Parmesan is a staple ingredient in many Italian and Italian-inspired cuisines.

  1. Pasta: It’s a staple ingredient in classic dishes like Spaghetti Carbonara, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Lasagna.
  2. Risotto: Parmesan gives many risottos their famous deep flavor and luscious texture.
  3. Salads: It adds a delightful savory and crunchy element to Caesar and Caprese salads.
  4. Pizza: While it may be a controversial choice in Italy, it can give your pizza a a salty, umami kick.
  5. Soups: Sprinkle some Parmesan over Minestrone or tomato soup for a burst of savory richness.
  6. Vegetables: Grate Parmesan on top of roasted or steamed vegetables to take their flavor to a new level.

Myth vs Fact

There are plenty of misconceptions about Parmesan Cheese, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it! We’re here to bust some of the most common myths.

Myth: “Parmesan cheese is only suitable for Italian dishes.”
Fact: While Parmesan cheese is a staple in Italian cuisine, it enhances the flavor of all kinds of dishes, just like lots of other savory ingredients.

Myth: “All Parmesan cheeses are the same.”
Fact: Its flavor and quality is based on factors like aging, production methods, and origin.

Myth: “Parmesan cheese is not vegetarian.”
Fact: While traditional Parmesan uses animal rennet, vegetarian-friendly versions use microbial or vegetable rennet.

Myth: “Parmesan cheese is lactose-free.”
Fact: While Parmesan cheese is naturally low in lactose, it may still contain trace amounts. Avoid caution if you’ve a lactose intolerance.

Myth: “Parmesan cheese is just a topping.”
Fact: It’s a key ingredient in dishes risotto and pasta to add depth and richness.


What are the differences between Parmesan and Pecorino cheese?

To compare, Pecorino cheese is even sharper and tangier. And it’s better for dishes like as cacio e pepe. In saying that, people often use both cheeses to make Spaghetti Carbonara!

How can I tell if Parmesan cheese is authentic?

First, look for the Parmigiano Reggiano seal on its rind. It includes the cheese’s name, dairy number, and production date. The ingredient list should only include cow milk, salt, and rennet. In the US, real Parmigiano Reggiano is typically pricier than locally made ones.

Is Parmesan cheese halal?

No. It includes rennet, which comes the stomach lining of a calf. This particular type of rennet doesn’t align with halal dietary guidelines.

What to do when Parmesan cheese has mold?

If it develops molds, cut away the affected areas, ensuring the rest remains uncontaminated.

How to store Parmesan cheese?

Parmesan cheese is well-known for its remarkable shelf life. It is capable of lasting anywhere from several months to even years when properly stored in the refrigerator. To ensure its freshness, it is recommended that you tightly wrap Parmesan cheese in wax paper. Afterwards, secure it within an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag.

In Summary

From the authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano to the versatile adaptations of Parmesan cheese available in the US, it is truly a global culinary treasure. With insights into its flavors, textures, and diverse uses, you’re now ready to appreciate Parmesan cheese in all its forms. So, whip up a pasta, salad, or even a sauce and…well…buon appetito!