Over time, Parmigiano-Reggiano became a staple in our fridge and on our plates. I use it for so many different things! Snack? Crisps, baked for a few minutes. Or thinly sliced with a piece of dark chocolate. Or with a slice of apple and a drizzle of balsamic. Salad ingredient? You better believe it. And not just an ingredient. It takes center stage, and rightfully so. Generous amounts of thin shavings, mixed with arugula (my favorite green base for light salads), and tossed with olive oil and seasoning. Soup topping, sandwich layer, dressing – the list goes on. But the most popular and truly wonderful would of course would be freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over hot, homemade pasta. No matter how simple the dish is, using fewer, but better quality products is equal to listening to a small, talented choir, as opposed to a crowd of mediocre singers.
To be completely honest – and I hope I won’t get barred from entering Italy in the future for saying this – I didn’t even used to like Parmigiano-Reggiano. It wasn’t until I started recording my own recipes that I realized how much I rely on it in everyday cooking. I used to always think it’s just too sharp, and glance over it at the cheese counter. Irony is not lost on me, now that buying a whole wheel of it is on my bucket list. And, to pay my respects, I don’t ever shorten it to Parmesan anymore. Even though it takes longer to write and type it. After I started buying it more consciously and noticing its strong presence in my dishes, I just gained too much respect for it. Plus, there is a significant price and most importantly quality difference between the two. While Domestic Parmesan might be great for certain things, I prefer to stick to the traditional, pure product that goes back centuries.
To stamp a wheel of cheese with those two words is no easy task. It has to be produced a certain way that ensures the right color, texture, flavor and smell. It may not always be obvious as to why is it so expensive, but one quick look at the requirements alone gives a good idea. Strict rules called “Protected Designation of Origin” – or PDO, dictate every little detail of the way this cheese has to be handled, long before it’s in a cheese form. We’re talking things like a specific area of specific part of Italy, where specific breed of cows graze, and a limited amount of time for the milk to be transported from the milking cite to the creamery (which is two hours).
The point is, next time you look at it in the store, know that it had started long before it was actually made. Cows were pre-selected to eat a grass from certain pastures. Lots of people, hard at work, made sure the delivery of the milk was on time to start the process in cheese world known as “controlled spoilage”. Facilities were ventilated and kept at certain temperatures to ensure proper aging for 18 months. That’s 18 months of running a business and not having a product to sell! And after the 18 months of aging, some percentage of this cheese is rejected due to reasons that can’t be controlled by the people who make it. Then those, that are fit to be sold and exported, are stamped and transported. Eventually, they make their way to various stores where cheesemongers will crack them open to sell piece by piece, to consumers like you and I.
I hope knowing how much work and effort there is behind « The King of Cheeses » will encourage you to include it in your diet and menu. And if you need recipe ideas, I highly recommend this Tomato Soup, which allows you to reuse the rinds (they are heavy and you pay for them!), or delicious, quick and extremely versatile Basil Alfredo sauce or classic Caesar dressing.