The King of Cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano

For many people, eating Parmigiano-Reggiano for the first time is a surprising experience. That's because the grainy, slightly crunchy texture of Parmigiano-Reggiano is truly unique.

"Parmesan" is made in a variety of different countries but only authentic "Parmigiano Reggiano" is produced in the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua and Bologna. Only the milk from local cows, whose diet is regulated according to a strict feeding discipline, can be used in the production of this cheese. The difference of its milk, care and expertise expended in making it and the length of its aging period is what makes this cheese stand out on its own.

To know if you are buying a true Parmigiano-Reggiano, look for the stamp of the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano in its rind, as pictured below.




Parma is a grana ( a "grainy" - textured or "granular" cheese), a reference to its finished texture. A grana is a hard cheese that when is grated will result in fine grains. For pasta, I prefer coarsely grated: other times, such as for soup, I think a very fine powdery texture is best. There are many Grana cheeses made in many towns across northern Italy, but they are not Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Parmigiano-Reggiano has an enormous flavor. As a table cheese, it will melt in your mouth, creating a delicious piquant taste. In cooking, the flavor disperses and unites with other ingredients to raise their presence and heighten their impact. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a superb cheese to eat. It is marvelous as a first course with fresh figs, melon or any fruit.

It marries well with prosciutto drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Its wonderful slivered over an arugula salad with a mild vinaigrette.
For a simple, yet beautiful contrast, drizzle an aged balsamic vinegar over a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and your let your taste buds sing to you.
It also partners well big Italian red wines: such as Chianti, Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera. 

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a must have cheese. Add it to your next soup; Minestrone, French Onion soup or try one of my all time favorite recipes for a Roman Egg-drop soup. The Parmigiano Reggiano just adds richness and body to the soup that you will definitely enjoy.

Roman Egg-Drop Soup

4 Extra large eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 quarts homemade chicken broth

Beat eggs in a small bowl until just blended. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon juice, parsley, nutmeg and salt. Mix well.
Bring broth to a rolling boil in a saucepan. Pour in egg mixture, stirring gently and constantly with a wire wisk. Reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook 2-3 minutes until egg mixture forms tiny flakes. Serve piping hot

How about adding Parmigiano-Reggiano to your next dessert?
Its summer time and there's no better way to incorporate Parmigiano-Reggiano than in ice cream, yes ice cream!!!

"Gelato" di Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Aged balsamic vinegar, the older the better

Accompaniments:

Multigrain raisin or crusty French bread
Red Grapes
Pear or apple slices
Walnuts
Spicy greens such as arugula

Bring cream, garlic and nutmeg to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, watching constantly. Remove garlic from the cream.
Add Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until all the cheese is incorporated.
Continue stirring until cheese is melted, about 1 minute.
Remove from heat, pour into a shallow heat resistant dish and cool to room temperature.
Cover dish and refrigerate until cheese stiffens.
Scoop portions of  "gelato" with ice cream scoop onto 6 salad plates.
Garnish with your choice of accompaniments listed above. Drip a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar over the "gelato". Serve and Enjoy!

The key to knowing if you are buying a true Parmigiano-Reggiano is to look for the stamp of the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano in its rind!

Buon Appetito!

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