the Authentic Italian issue

whose history, origin and flavor are so particular that the resulting food cannot be duplicated elsewhere. In addition to protecting a food’s name, specific production and aging criteria are also articulated. So, when people ask me why Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan aren’t the same, there are numerous and specific answers. Some highlights of what it takes to qualify as Parmigiano-Reggiano are: • Milk and cheese production must occur in the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, and may occur in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno River, and Mantua to the east of the Po River • Milk may never be pasteurized (the cheese is always a raw milk, or unpasteurized, cheese and is always made from cow’s milk) • Wheels of cheese are graded for quality after 12 months, and those deemed unsuitable for aging to the standard 24 months are removed and sold as something other than Parmigiano- Reggiano

• There are dozens of other criteria that make a Parmigiano-Reggiano (see sidebar on page 19), all of which contribute to a particular texture and flavor profile that cannot be captured by any other cheese If all these qualities (and more) make a cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano, then what makes a cheese, simply, Parmesan? The origin of American Parmesan (and other Italian-inspired recipes such as Fontina, Gorgonzola and Dry Jack) can be closely traced to regions of the developing United States where there were pockets of Italian immigrants residing. Late 19 th- and early 20 th -century Northern California, for instance, had a large and hungry Italian immigrant population missing the foods of their homeland. Cheesemakers began answering this need with recipes derived from Italy, though necessary tweaks of ingredients and recipes yielded cheeses that were like the homeland original, yet not exactly the same. Parmesan is a grana (grainy) style cheese, meaning it is hard, dry and aged, and thus especially well-suited to grating and shaving. American Parmesan

tends to be significantly younger than Parmigiano-Reggiano (usually 12 months as opposed to 24). Most important, it is not matured in open-air aging facilities so it doesn’t develop a thick, hard exterior rind and its texture is moister and mealier than the Italian original. All American Parmesan is made of pasteurized cow’s milk, and its flavor is universally sweeter and more caramelized than the bracing acidity that makes Parmigiano-Reggiano so distinctive. This isn’t to say Parmesan is bad cheese (though some Italian die-hards might argue with me on this one). It’s simply different cheese. The best American brands are Rio Briati, BelGioioso and Sartori, all of which are readily available at Rouses.Many of these come pre-grated or pre-shredded, which lots of folks like for convenience. While I’m happy to snack on Parmesan if it’s served to me, I usually hold out for Parmigiano- Reggiano. In cooking, its salt and acidity add a dimension and depth of flavor to soups, sauces and salads. That thick, waxy rind is the secret ingredient to my universally loved minestrone. It elevates a bunch of vegetables to the realm of the addictive and savory.



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