Issue 30

Parmiggiano-Reggiano: The Meaning Behind the Name

Parmiggiano-Reggiano: The Meaning Behind the Name

What’s in a name? There are many names in the cheese world from names that describe a general type of cheese, to very specific styles of cheese, to recognized brand names.

When you see the name “Cheddar” on a package of cheese, you know a bit about it. You know that this cheese will be semi-hard, that it will melt well. But the flavor can vary a great deal, sharp to mild, American style to Irish. The name only gets you halfway.

Then you have a name like Cambozola. This name belongs to one company. It’s a registered trademark. I know exactly what I’m getting when I see that name. It’s an absolutely sublime blend of triple cream Brie and Gorgonzola.

On the subject of names, I am let to the name Parmiggiano-Reggiano (PR), the undisputed king of cheeses. Similar to some names in the wine world, this one is regulated by law. Regulated by Italian and EU law, PR is produced by many companies in one of five regions of Northern Italy.

The regulations governing the production of PR are surprising in their breadth. Every step of the production of this masterwork is meticulously regulated. From what, when, and where the cows eat and live to the size and shape of the cheese mold, everything is laid-out in great detail.

First, the raw cows milk is placed in a large stainless steel vat. Here the cheese maker separates off some of the cream, producing a skim milk. After adding rennet, the milk forms curds. The curds are then cut down to about the size of a grain of rice. They are then collected and loaded into a stainless steel round form. Here it takes the familiar shape of a slightly bulbous, large wheel. After a couple days in the form, its time for a salt bath. The cheese maker lets the wheel soak in a brine solution for up to 25 days. After the salt, the wheel is moved to a dry rack to age for one to five years. (if any reader has heard of PR aged more than 5 years, put down the magazine and send me  an email immediately, I’ll be right over). From there, the regulations continue including stipulation on storing, marking, and shipping.

Is all of the extra work worth it? Absolutely. The finished product is the most useful, versatile cheese on the planet. Simple, nutty and sublime. Most of the PR you’ll see in stores is aged 12- 24 months. I would suggest buying the oldest you are able to find and afford. With age the salt crystals become more pronounced. At five years, the crystals abound. The flavor goes deeper A small company,, sells five year aged PR. You’ll need to call to arrange shipping. Having finished my last block of it a couple months ago, I wish I had some here to review for you. But take my word for it; this is the stuff dreams are made of.

In conclusion, spend the money, buy real Parmigianno-Regianno. You will not regret it. Also, pay attention to the names of your cheeses. Write them down, do some digging. And most of all, enjoy!

Matt Biggins

Matt Biggins

Matt Biggins may have discovered his love for cheeses working the rice paddies in western China. He could have learned to write during his stay on MIR. If so, he's certainly happy to be living comfortably in the US and working with FSM Omaha.

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