Parmesan in our A-Z - Cooking Index
Parmesan, or Parmigiano Reggiano, is a hard, cow's milk cheese named after the Parma region in Emila Romagna, Italy, where it is produced.
It is Italy's most famous cheese and is exported around the world. It is most often used finely grated over pasta dishes but it has a wide variety of uses and is delicious eaten on its own.
Only milk produced between May 1 and November 11 may be used to produce Parmigiano Reggiano. By tradition the cows must have been fed on grass or hay. Parmesan must be aged for at least 12 months and is usually aged for longer. Cheeses aged for 18 to 24 months are called Vecchio and those aged for 24 to 36 months are called Stravecchio.
Parmesan can be bought already grated or in a block. Unless you know that the pre-grated parmesan is freshly grated and you intend to use it that day, Cooking Index strongly encourages you to buy a block of parmesan and grate it yourself. As soon as Parmesan is grated it loses its flavor quite quickly and starts to dry out.
Parmesan is usually grated on the finest setting of a grater but it is delicious in thicker gratings. Restaurants will often use 'shavings' of parmesan using a potato peeler, which can be delicious as long as they are thin enough (which they are often not).
The word parmesan is protected by the European Union under its DOC rules, meaning that cheese producers in other regions may not call their cheeses parmesan.
A cheaper subsitute for Parmigiano Reggiano is Grana Padano, which is made in the Lombary region of Italy to an almost identical formula.
Do not even think about buying pre-grated Parmesan in a cardboard tube. This invention has done more to put people off cheese than anything ever invented. Tasting more like dandruff with vomit flavoring added, it is one of the biggest gastronomic disasters imagineable.