Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Can you tell your Parmesan from your Parmigiano?

Ok, it’s a bit of a trick question. The truth is, Parmesan cheese IS Parmigiano-Reggiano, or at least, it should be. Parmesan is the French translation of Parmigiano, which means “of Parma”, the place where the cheese originates – they’ve been making it there since the 13th century. While the name Parmesan can only be used in Europe to describe this very special cheese, other markets are less strict. So if you want to be 100% sure you’re getting Parmigiano Reggiano, look for its full name.

So what’s so special about authentic Parmesan? Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the world’s best-loved hard cheeses because it ages well and its flavors generally enhance over time. Its fine, crumbly texture makes it a great ingredient or topping, while its strong taste means you don’t need much to add flavor to a wide range of dishes.
The taste itself is tricky to describe, but while the texture is solid, the flavor is much more fluid depending on what you serve the cheese with. Some claim it to be creamy and nutty, while others find it sweet and zesty. The taste may be complex, but the ingredients aren’t – there are just three, fresh unpasteurized cow's milk, salt and calf rennet.