Parmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheeses. The real namesake of what Americans call “parmesan,” it is among the most famous of all the many Italian cheeses. Romano (which I wrote about briefly in a post on Pecorinos earlier on the blog) is up there, too.
Parmigiano Reggiano comes in a massive, 84-pound wheel that is sealed in a hard, golden rind. The rind is usually stamped with the name “Parmigiano Reggiano” and the number of the plant where it was made in Italy. You may also see a brand name, too.
If you watch the first show in the series Chef’s Table on Netflix, Italian superstar chef Massimo Bottura’s story is loosely interwoven with that of the Reggiano industry in Modena, Italy. The episode takes you into some of the spaces where Reggiano is made and aged.
The show—and the series in total!—is worth a watch for many reasons, but this episode in particular imparts the importance of Reggiano as one of the world’s best cheeses.
Parmigiano Reggiano has DOC status. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or “Designation of Controlled Origin.” In order to carry the DOC stamp, true Parmigiano Reggiano must be made according to a specific, traditional recipe, with milk from the cheese’s stated, traditional region, be made in that certain region, and follow all of the stated rules.
A consortium goes around certifying the Reggiano produced in Italy, only providing DOC status when all of the criteria are met. When it is DOC, you know it is real Reggiano.
Right now, my shop has its big, yellow wheels of Reggiano on display on the same table as some pale, yellow wheels of Grana Padano. They look identical, except for the difference in color and the stamp on the rind. Grana also has a DOC status, so it is another “real” Italian cheese.
Grana looks like Reggiano, smells a bit like it, and even tastes very similar. But it is quite different.
Parmigano Reggiano is made with whole and skim raw cow’s milk. It is aged for a minimum of 14 months, and it must come exclusively and entirely from Emilia Romagna, Modena, Parma, or some parts of Mantua and Bologna.
The milk that produces Reggiano must come from cows that are grass-fed. That means that in order for the makers to create real, name-protected Reggiano, the cheese can only be made between April and November.
Grana Padano is made in the Po River Valley’s Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino and Veneto. The name “Padano” means “Po River,” hence the cheese is named after its home.
Grana Padano is made from partially skim, raw cow’s milk, and it must be aged for six months. That milk can come from anywhere, including places outside the region where the cheese is traditionally made, and Grana Padano will still carry its DOC status.
Grana Padano is younger than Reggiano, and lighter in several senses. Whereas Reggiano’s flavor is big, bold, nutty, slightly salty, and carries a hint of pineapple, Grana Padano possesses the same flavor notes but in a milder, more muted profile.
Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano are both grana cheeses; “grana” refers to the granular consistency of the paste—the texture that makes these cheeses so good for grating. They are both part of a larger family of cheeses Americans collectively refer to as “Parmesans”—or what your cheesemonger prefers to call “Italian grating-style cheeses.”
We cut a lot of Reggiano this week. You can watch a short video of our newest baby cheesemonger, Danny, splitting a half-wheel of Reggiano in half for only the second time ever.
In a second video, you will see me break a quarter wheel into eighths.
These videos can be taken as a “day-in-the-life” view into cheesemongering. Aside from the fact that I’m surreptitiously filming when I’m not supposed to have my phone on me, you get to see real, live cheesemongers doing cheesemongery things and talking cheesemongery talk.
As a bonus video, Julia Powers of the Peterson Cheese Company came into our shop the other day to help us cut some cheese. While she was there, she cracked a wheel of Grana Padano. She makes it look super easy!