Parmigiano-Reggiano, a salty and umami hard cheese, is one of the most revered cheeses in the world, originating from Parma, Italy, and produced exclusively in select areas of the Emilia-Romagna region using locally sourced ingredients–specifically cow’s milk, salt and calf rennet. The cheese has a rich history in Parma, dating back to the Middle Ages when Benedictine and Cistercian monks sought to make a cheese, using local ingredients, with a long shelf life. Based on this history-and-locale connection, Parmigiano-Reggiano has a Protected Designation of Origin seal, which prevents other cheese producers from replicating it. (Imitation versions are sold simply as “parmesan”.)
A naturally lactose-free cheese, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is made in large wheels identified by surface inscriptions and stamps designated by the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium, the governing body that regulates the stringent cheese-making process at over 300 dairies.
Most wheels are aged from a minimum 12 months up to 36 months. 24 months is the most common, though there are some specialty wheels that are aged up to 10 years or more. The older the cheese, the more the taste and texture changes from milky and creamy, to nutty and crumbly. You may notice that as the cheese ages, there are white crystals that become more defined. Commonly mistaken for salt, these crystals are actually tyrosine, a flavourless amino acid. Nonetheless, it does add a nice crunch to your bite.
As the Parmigiano-Reggiano matures, the wheel also forms a natural rind. The rinds can be tough but don’t discard them. Regional chefs have found creative ways to repurpose the rinds: using it to enrich the flavours of soups, sauces and risotto, turned into crackers, and even finely chopping and added to ragu. As you eat through cheese wedges, freeze the rinds in a container until ready to use. Here are some of our favourite ways to use this highly coveted cheese and its rind.
As Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese matures, the wheel forms a natural rind. The rinds can be tough but don’t discard them. These Parmigiano-Reggiano “croutons”, made from the rinds, can be sprinkled on soups, salads or enjoyed on a cheese plate.